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Wendy Perron on Sunday, Sep 15, 2013
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American Ballet Theatre announced a new initiative to find and train potential ballet stars of color. Partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Project Plié will give scholarships to promising students to ABT’s JKO School and summer intensives.
This is a welcome step in the right direction, as the gap between the diversity on the streets and the lack of diversity on ballet stages is as wide as ever. According to Pia Catton in the Wall Street Journal, Rachel Moore, ABT's executive director, said, "We're not going to be relevant in 50 years if we don't look like America."
In a savvy move, Project Plié will introduce ballet to children at Boys & Girls Clubs around the country with a video of ABT soloist Misty Copeland talking about ballet.
“The theme of this is finding the next Misty Copeland,” said Frank Sanchez, a national vice president of the Boys & Girls Club of America, in the Wall Street Journal article.
That’s very nice and ambitious. However, I have a question: After pouring all this effort, time, and money into finding the “next Misty Copeland,” will ABT actually cast such talented dancers in lead roles in the classics? Copeland herself, a ravishing dancer with appealing stage presence and rock-solid technique, has never done Giselle, Odette/Odile, or Juliet at ABT. She has danced the lead in Ratmansky’s Firebird but all her other classical roles are soloist level, not leads—and she’s a favorite of contemporary choreographers. But she has not been promoted from soloist to principal.
What I’m saying is that things have to change from both ends. We need more kids of color taking ballet and staying the course, and we need more artistic directors willing to cast deserving dancers of color in the great (Euro-centric) classic roles.