The American Ballet Theatre soloist brings passion and power to all her roles.
Copeland, in costume for Prince's Crimson and Clover music video. Photo by Matthew Karas.
It was a big deal when Misty Copeland was promoted to soloist in 2007—the first female African American ballet dancer to reach that status at American Ballet Theatre in over two decades. In the last three years she has shone bright in repertoire ranging from avant-garde to pure classical and everything in between.
Her sublime rapport with her partners in Twyla Tharp’s audacious duet Sinatra Suite has earned her the honor of dancing with the company’s male superstars, including Angel Corella, Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, and Jose Manuel Carreño. When it comes to steaming up the audience, no one does a more sultry “Rum and Coca-Cola” in Paul Taylor’s Company B than Copeland. Cast in leading roles in contemporary works by Forsythe, Kylián, Kudelka, and Mark Morris, Copeland illuminates them with special flair.
But it’s her classical repertoire that has deepened in artistry with each season. In the peasant pas de deux from Giselle, she is buoyant and refreshingly lyrical, and her plush jumps in Swan Lake’s pas de trois are a joy. As the Fairy of Valor in Sleeping Beauty, she tempers the harsh stabbing fingers and dagger-like pas de chats by uplifting her body with grandeur and, yes, valor.
Last year, her exhilarating performance as Gulnare, the slave girl in Le Corsaire, was as close as she’s come to a leading role in a full-length ballet. She met the challenge full on, shaping this cipher character into a mischievous vixen. One of her coaches was ABT’s artistic director, Kevin McKenzie. “He has such a great eye and the ability to see the overall picture,” says Copeland. “He showed me how I should hold my back and let everything fall into place.”
McKenzie says, “Misty is enormously versatile. She knows how to listen, realize and apply. She is a real representation of the American dancer. I obviously believe in Misty. She has earned everything she has achieved.”
At right: In the pas de trois of Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
At left: As Gulnare in Le Corsaire. Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.
Copeland, 28, grew up in San Pedro, California. As a child, she made up routines to Mariah Carey and danced around the house. Then she discovered cheerleading and tried out for squad captain—and made it. Ballet never crossed her mind until her drill coach, Elizabeth Kantine, trained in ballet, said to her, “What are you doing here? You have the physique of a classical ballet dancer.”
A visiting dance teacher, Cynthia Bradley, also recognized the young teen’s potential, and invited her to study at her studio on full scholarship. At age 13—ancient by ballet starting standards—she and her mother made the two-hour bus ride to classes. But sometimes working two jobs, with three other children at home, was too much for her mother. To make up for lost time, the Bradleys invited Misty to live with them during the week and return home on weekends. Within a year she was on pointe and dancing major roles in school performances. But after two years, Copeland says, “My mother felt she was losing me.”
A heated tug-of-war developed between the Bradleys and her mother that was resolved when the teenager moved back home. She began studying at Diane Lauridsen’s Ballet Centre, where she gained strength in basic technique. She also studied with Lola de Avila at the San Francisco Ballet School.
Copeland saw her first ABT performance when she was still 13, with Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella in Don Q. “I will never forget it,” she says. “As soon as I left the theater, I wanted to do Kitri.” Herrera has been her idol ever since. “Paloma never looks tired onstage; she is so consistent and knows her body so well. In the wings she is never out of breath.”
At 15 Copeland entered the Music Center Spotlight Awards in Los Angeles and won first place in the ballet category. A video clip of Copeland performing Kitri in the Don Q pas de deux and variation leaves little doubt that this exquisite teenager already possessed musicality, strong technique, and a radiant stage presence—plus she pulled off the requisite fouettés.
In 1999 she came to New York City on a full scholarship for ABT’s summer intensive. Although she was offered a place in ABT’s Studio Company (now ABT II), she decided to go home and finish high school. The next year, Copeland returned for another summer session and joined ABT II. A year later she accepted ABT’s corps contract and promptly left on tour to China.
Copeland admits she is more at home with contemporary works, particularly Tharp’s ballets. “I feel very comfortable and confident in them,” says Copeland. In Baker’s Dozen she moves with silken cool, and she’s locomotion-in-sneakers in Tharp’s barnburner, In the Upper Room. Recently the choreographer created a role for Copeland in Rabbit and Rogue.
Soloist Craig Salstein has been her frequent partner since their ABT summer-course days. “Misty is the easiest and most comfortable body to move around,” says Salstein. “When you get Misty as a new partner that is a plus.” The two are paired in Tharp’s intricate and fast-paced Brahms-Haydn Variations, where one missed cue can spell disaster.
She also hit it off with Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo. “From the moment I met Jorma I felt like we had this connection. He was speaking another language with his body, and I get his movement,” says Copeland, who created lead roles in both the ballets he made for ABT. In rehearsal Elo discovered Copeland’s “instant replay” visual memory. He says, “Often with me in my creative moments—they are very fast, and I can’t repeat them myself. Misty has the capability to absorb something extremely fast and then reproduce it exactly, and she gives such clarity to the material. If I were to make my own company, she would be the first one I would call.”
Copeland in her own clothes. Photo by Matthew Karas.
Glamour emanates from the extravagantly talented ballerina; though only 5' 2" she appears much taller onstage. Copeland sees herself as a trailblazer and dreams of becoming the first African American ballerina to reach principal at ABT. She aspires to perform classical roles such as Kitri, Giselle, and Gamzatti or Nikiya in La Bayadère. She knows that these full-length ballets require strength, stamina, dazzling technique, and dramatic flair. “These roles I feel I could do,” she says. “What I need most is the experience of doing them.” But she also understands that ABT has a deep bench, and opportunities to perform them are few.
Yes, she has had injuries—stress fractures in her lower back early in her career, and a recent one in her shin that sidelined her for the first half of 2010. At times during her six and a half years in the corps, she began to doubt herself. “Definitely there have been frustrations,” says Copeland. She feels that ABT casting tends to put her in the more modern works. “I have to remind them that I was trained classically and this is what I want to do—the classical roles,” she says. “So that has been one of the biggest struggles for me here.”
In 2006 a ray of sunshine came into her life in the form of the author and producer Susan Fales-Hill, who sits on ABT’s board. Fales-Hill became Copeland’s sponsor—and a friend. She opened the dancer’s world to other successful black women who helped restore her flagging resolve. “No one does everything alone,” Fales-Hill says. “The extra tailwind helps.” Fales-Hill has also advised Copeland with her offstage pursuit: designing dancewear for fuller-figured dancers and athletes. “I have never been able to find leotards that give me the right bust support,” says Copeland.
When Copeland received the two-year Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in 2008, she used the money for working privately with Merrill Ashley on Balanchine technique. “I felt that a lot of the Balanchine ballets were my weakness,” Copeland says. “I need to learn quick foot work and still stay open and free on top.” It paid off last spring, when she performed Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux with Jared Matthews during the Met season.
In her wildest dreams Copeland never could have imagined the phone call that woke her up one morning when her friend said that Prince wanted to get in touch with her. Her reaction: “Prince who, prince of what? What are you talking about?” The friend was talking about Prince the rock musician, who wanted her for his music video Crimson and Clover. The ballerina flew to L.A. in March 2009 and filmed it on a Hollywood soundstage. Ravishing under scarlet light, she improvised the lush développés, lilts, and swirls in slow motion that were superimposed over the rock star’s performance. Check it out on YouTube.
Believing that dreams can come true, Copeland says, “There are so many young African American ballet dancers who stop me on the street or in the subway,” she says. “They say, ‘I want to be just like you, I want to pursue a classical ballet career.’ And I say, ‘Do it now! No reason to wait. I’m here and I made it.’ Hopefully I can set that example so they don’t give up.”
Astrida Woods, a former ballet dancer, contributes to Dance Magazine and Playbill and is working on a book called Dancers Are People Too.
Photo by Matthew Karas.
As a very shy little girl, my happy place was my room, where I would wear improvised costumes and giggle with happiness while dancing for an imaginary audience. I was raised in a family where dancing was "normal." My mom and sisters graduated from the national ballet academy in Poland, and I, of course, wanted to follow their steps. But I was never forced to. I am proud to say I discovered the magic of ballet all by myself.
Photo by Costin Radu, courtesy of Petra Conti
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The midterm elections are less than three weeks away on November 6. If you're registered to vote, hooray!
But you can't fully celebrate before you've completed your mission. Showing up at the polls is what matters most—especially since voter turnout for midterms doesn't have a fabulous track record. According to statistics from FairVote, about 40 percent of the population that is eligible to vote actually casts a ballot during midterm elections.
Many members of the dance community are making it clear that they want that percentage go up, and they're using social media to take a stand. Here's how they're getting involved:
Dancers will do just about anything to increase their odds of staying injury-free. And there are plenty of products out there claiming that they can help you do just that. But which actually work?
We asked for recommendations from four experts: Martt Lawrence, who teaches Pilates to dancers in San Francisco; Lisa-Marie Lewis, who teaches yoga at The Ailey Extension in New York City; physical therapist Alexis Sams, who treats dancers at her clinic in Phoenix; and stretch training coach Vicente Hernandez, who teaches at The School of Pennsylvania Ballet.
With a contemporary air that exalts—rather than obscures—flamenco tradition, and a technique and stamina that boggle the mind, Eduardo Guerrero's professional trajectory has done nothing but skyrocket since being named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" earlier this year. His 2017 solo Guerrero has toured widely, and he has created premieres for the Jerez Festival (Faro) and the 2018 Seville Flamenco Biennial (Sombra Efímera). In the midst of his seemingly unstoppable ascension, he's created Gaditanía, his first work utilizing a corps de ballet. Guerrero is currently touring the U.S. with this homage to Cadiz, the city of his birth.
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At our cover shoot for the November issue, Bobbi Jene Smith curated one of the best lineups of YouTube music videos that I've heard in a long time. From Bob Dylan to Tom Waits, they felt like such perfect choices for her earthy, visceral movement and soulful approach to dance.
Dance technology has come a long way from ballet variations painstakingly learned by watching fuzzy VHS tapes. Over the last few years, a dizzying number of online training programs have cropped up, offering the chance to take class in contemporary, jazz, ballet, tap, hip hop and even ballroom from the comfort of your own living room or studio.
Usually, it takes new recruits a few seasons to make their mark at the Paul Taylor Dance Company. But Taylor wasted no time in honing in on the talents of Alex Clayton. Only a few months after Clayton joined in June 2017, Taylor created an exciting solo for him in his new Concertiana, filled with explosive leaps and quick footwork. Clayton was also featured in new works by Doug Varone and Bryan Arias. At 5' 6" he may be compact, but onstage he fills the space with a thrilling sense of attack.
Scottish Ballet is turning 50 next year, but they'll be the one giving out the gifts.
In 2019, the company will make five wishes from fans come true, as a way of thanking them for their loyalty and support over the years. "It can be anything from the dancers performing at a birthday party or on the banks of Loch Ness, or even the chance to get on stage and be part of a Scottish Ballet show," according to the company.
Recently, English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams announced that she will no longer be wearing pink tights. With the support of her artistic director Tamara Rojo, she will instead wear chocolate brown tights (and shoes) that match her flesh tone.
It may seem like a simple change, but this could be a watershed moment—one where the aesthetics of ballet begin to expand to include the presence of people of color.
Flamenco dancer and choreographer Rocío Molina created her first full-length production, Entre paredes ("Between Walls"), at the age of 22. At 26, the prodigy received Spain's National Dance Prize, the most coveted dance award in Spain. Now 34, her rupture with tradition makes her no stranger to controversy. But it, and her fiercely personal and contemporary style, means that each new project is a fascinating voyage.
Molina is the subject of French filmmaker Emilio Belmonte's first feature length documentary, IMPULSO. The film, which makes its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York City's Film Forum on October 17, follows Molina for two years as she tours Europe presenting a series of improvised works. These improvisations ultimately inspired the creation of one of Molina's masterworks, Caída de Cielo ("Fallen from Heaven"), which premiered in 2016.
In a move that was both surprising and seemingly inevitable, New York City Ballet closed its fall season by promoting seven dancers. Joseph Gordon, who was promoted to soloist in February 2017, is now a principal dancer. Daniel Applebaum, Harrison Coll, Claire Kretzschmar, Aaron Sanz, Sebastian Villarini-Velez and Peter Walker have been promoted to soloist.
Newly promoted soloist Peter Walker has been showing his abilities as a leading man in ballets like Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
The announcement was made on Saturday by Jonathan Stafford, the head of NYCB's interim leadership team. These seven promotions mark the first since longtime ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired in the midst of harassment allegations at the beginning of this year. While Stafford and fellow interim leaders Rebecca Krohn, Craig Hall and Justin Peck have made some bold choices in terms of programming—such as commissioning Kyle Abraham and Emma Portner to create new works for the 2018–19 season—their primary focus has appeared to be keeping the company running on an even keel while the search for a new artistic leader is ongoing. Some of us theorized that we would not be seeing any promotions until a new artistic director was in place.
Ryan Steele has a simple rule for demanding days on Broadway: "I listen to my body," he says. "I have whatever I'm craving: If I need more protein, I go straight for that. If I'm tired, I know I need carbs."
This wasn't always Steele's approach. Growing up, shuttling between the studio and school meant relying on McDonald's and Burger King.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
Earlier this week, a friend of a friend reached out to me seeking recommendations for a dancer/choreographer to hire. She wanted someone who could perform a solo and talk about their process for an arts-appreciation club. After a few emails back and forth, as I was trying to find out exactly what kind of choreographer she was looking for, it eventually emerged that she was not looking to pay this person.
"We are hoping to find someone who would be willing to participate in exchange for the exposure," she wrote.
Why do people think this is an okay thing to ask for?
For over a decade, husband-and-wife team Pascal Rioult and Joyce Herring, artistic and associate artistic directors of RIOULT Dance NY, dreamed of building a space for their company and fellow artists in the community, and a school for future dancers. This month, their 11,000-square-foot dream opens its doors in the Kaufman Arts District in Astoria, Queens, a New York City neighborhood across the East River from Manhattan.
In the final years of her decade-long career with the Lewitzky Dance Company, University of Arizona Associate Professor Amy Ernst began to develop an interest in dance injury prevention. She remembers feeling an urge to widen her understanding of dance and the body. Soon after retirement from the Company, she was hired by the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Inglewood, California as a physical therapy assistant, where she worked for the next three and a half years. This work eventually led her to pursue an M.F.A. in dance at the University of Washington-Seattle. She remembers growing into the role of a professor during her time pursuing her degree. That incubation phase was critical. Ernst joined the faculty at the University of Arizona in 1995, and now as director of the M.F.A. program, mentors the new generation of dance faculty, company directors and innovators.
With cooler weather finally here, it's time to talk warm-ups. And while your dancewear drawer is probably overflowing with oversized sweaters, leggings and enough leg warmers to outfit the whole class, warm-up boots are often forgotten. To keep your feet and ankles cozy in between rehearsals, we rounded up dance warm-up boots that suit every style.
Bloch Inc. Printed Warm-up Bootie
via Bloch Inc.
Created by Irina Dvorovenko and Max Beloserkovsky, this collection comes in a variety of tie dye, floral and even butterfly prints.
Some of my favorite experiences as both an audience member and a dancer have involved audience participation. Artists who cleverly use participatory moments can make bold statements about the boundaries between performer and spectator, onstage and off. And the challenge to be more than a passive viewer can redefine an audience's relationship to what they're watching. But all the experiences I've loved have had something in common: They've given audiences a choice.
A few weeks back, I had a starkly different experience—one that has caused me to think deeply about how consent should play into audience-performer relationships.
What happens when you mix two really good things together? Sometimes, it can be magical. It's practically guaranteed when one of those elements is the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and the other is—wait for it—dance-team–style hip hop.
When the Bible spoke of the "ingathering of the exiles," it didn't have dance in mind. Yet, this month, more than 100 dancers, choreographers and scholars from around the world will gather at Arizona State University to celebrate the impact of Jews and the Jewish experience on dance. From hora to hip hop, social justice to somatics, ballet to Gaga, the three-day event (Oct. 13–15) is "deliberately inclusive," says conference organizer and ASU professor Naomi Jackson.