In April, The Washington Ballet will present Swan Lake in full for the first time in the company’s 70-year history. The performance has already made headlines because American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland will dance Odette/Odile with The Washington Ballet’s Brooklyn Mack as her Prince Siegfried, becoming the first African American duo to lead the classically white ballet at a major U.S. company. Copeland first performed the role with ABT in Australia last summer, but will make her stateside debut in two shows with The Washington Ballet, April 8–12, at the Kennedy Center.
What did you think of these roles growing up?
Misty Copeland: I never imagined myself as Odette/Odile. As I got older and performed Little Swans—my first role when I joined ABT’s corps—the ballet came to have a special place in my heart. But still, I thought even if I became a principal, this part might not be given to me because no one like me had done it before.
So do you see this as a momentous occasion?
MC: I try to preach against limiting yourself because you don’t see yourself represented, but that’s what ballet culture has done to minority dancers. When I found out that this was really happening, it was a shock.
Brooklyn Mack: I feel very strongly about exposing minorities and underprivileged youth to the arts. Art is important to everybody. It is vital to humanity. I feel it is my duty to impart that.
What do you hope will happen as a result of your dancing together?
MC: The special thing about doing this in DC is that Septime Webre, Washington Ballet’s artistic director, has a relationship with the Boys & Girls Clubs, which is where I took my first ballet class. He has already been out in the community doing the work. So this is not just a gimmick. It will speak directly to these communities and kids. A child might have more confidence to try ballet because they saw us in the media.
Does this mean we don’t have to worry so much about race in ballet?
BM: Our partnership will hopefully begin opening the eyes of some people who have prejudices and help them break those barriers.
MC: As much as it’s been talked about recently, my hope is that it is just the beginning of the conversation. This is a world that is slow to progress and change.
Have you been able to find chemistry with each other?
BM: Misty is really easy to get along with, so it is easy for us to be on the same page. I knew we had to do this ballet together.
MC: I have known Brooklyn since he was in the ABT Studio Company, and we have done gigs alongside each other, but this was our first time as partners. He is an excellent partner, which takes the pressure off and helps me save energy for variations. But most importantly, there is a mutual understanding and bond that existed before we started dancing. We share the responsibility to have a voice and represent, and that has led to an organic chemistry.
When the curtain closes on Swan Lake, what’s next?
BM: There are a number of roles I would love to tackle: MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Manon and The Sleeping Beauty, plus more Jirí Kylián and William Forsythe work.
MC: I just want to be better in the roles I have been given. I want to prove to myself that I am growing artistically and technically. I have to start preparing myself for Juliet even though I am in this new Swan Lake world. I have one show of Romeo and Juliet this summer and though it is a lot of pressure, I am going to try to just enjoy the process.