Sara Mearns in NYCB Swan Lake

In a season filled with lead debuts in New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake, Sara Mearns stands out as the most seasoned interpreter of Odette/Odile, having debuted in the role as an 18-year old Corps member in 2006. She was wonderful in the Saturday evening performance; as Odette, she was vulnerable as a frightened swan encountering Prince Siegfried, then emboldened as a human at night, eventually falling deeply in love with the prince. Her solos were polished and confident, particularly as the sly and cunning Odile.

Sara had a great emotional bond with her Prince Siegfried, Tyler Angle. The two displayed great dramatic timing as the two fell hopelessly in love with the partnering segments danced with great emotion.

This was the first time I’ve seen Sara in Swan Lake and enjoyed her meticulous work in the demanding role. However, I’m puzzled by New York Times dance critic Alistair Macaulay’s view of her as the world’s foremost interpreter of the double role of Odette/Odile of the past 20 years. I’ve seen some great performances in this role and, although very good, I don’t think Sara’s interpretation stands above the rest.

Technically, Tyler is similar to the other lead NYCB male dancers, with adequate but not great solo work. Martin’s Swan Lake simplifies some of the steps seen in other versions: simple assemblés rather than assemblé six in the female solo in the Pas de Trois, grand jetés down a diagonal in Benno’s second solo in the Pas de Trois rather than rousing double cabrioles, and a simple shoulder sit on a diagonal rather than a more grand overhead lift in the partnering segment in the Act I Lake Scene. Some lead men take the dumbing down one step further by taking out the standard and challenging double tour to arabesque in the second solo of the Grand Pas de Deux in favor of rudimentary simple assemblés. Both Chase Finlay and Tyler opted for the simple assemblé while Zachary Catazaro did the double tour sequence.

On the other hand, the NYCB lead women were stellar in their technical performances. I was greatly impressed by Tiler Peck’s debut performance along with Sara on Saturday. I didn’t see Megan Fairchild’s debut or Ashley Bouder and Teresa Reichlen (I liked Teresa’s Odette/Odile in 2015) this year, but expect that they gave great performances.

American Ballet Theatre has the opposite issue, lead men that overshadow the women technically. While ABT’s men excelled this spring with Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, Alban Lendorf, Daniil Simkin leading the way, the ABT women struggled technically, with few completing fouettés without mishap. A dream all-star casting would consist of ABT men and NYCB women (although the promotions to Principal Dancer of Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher, and Sarah Lane may result in a more competitive balance between the ABT and NYCB lead women).