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New York City Ballet’s Sara Mearns Learns How To Play A Villainess

Feb 14, 2017

Ms. Mearns donning makeup for her role as the Fairy Carabosse. CreditNatalie Keyssar for The New York Times

Fairies can be so fickle. One night, all you want to do is break a spell. The next, with ice in your veins and a malicious flourish, you put a curse into action.

On Thursday, Sara Mearns, the glamorous New York City Ballet principal, made an unlikely debut: the evil Fairy Carabosse in “The Sleeping Beauty.” Her usual role, which she performed Wednesday, is the Lilac Fairy, Princess Aurora’s shimmering protector who counteracts Carabosse’s curse of death.

Ms. Mearns, 31, is no polite ballerina, but an all-or-nothing dancer who reacts on the spot through her deep connection with music. Speaking twice in her dressing room on Thursday — once during intermission and later after her brief, ferocious appearance in the second act — Ms. Mearns reflected on the two roles. “Carabosse is like spitfire — short and sweet,” she said. “With the Lilac Fairy, I feel very empowered. You’re sort of in charge of the whole extravaganza. You’re always there.”

After a parting hug so she could take her bow — “Don’t get caught in the wing,” she said, referring not to the stage but to the appendage on her glittering black dress — she headed back out. For the record, the crowd roared. Ms. Mearns grinned with delight.

Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Who did you model Carabosse on?

I wanted her to be the Maleficent Disney [animated] version where she just stands there. She’s actually somewhat nice and doesn’t scream in the beginning. Peter [Martins, the ballet master in chief] told me: “Carabosse is just as beautiful as the Lilac Fairy. You should be above it all. But what’s different is that your soul is evil.”