The Misty Copeland Effect
Misty Copeland's well-chronicled journey to becoming the first female African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre has helped jumpstart conversations about racial representation in ballet companies. But how Copeland's success may influence ballet training still remains to be seen. Of course, she's already helped launch ABT's Project Plié, which seeks to boost racial and ethnic diversity in ballet through partnerships with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and with other companies, including Ballet Austin, Cincinnati Ballet and Orlando Ballet.
But there are other U.S. ballet companies making a deliberate effort to hire black dancers. Since 2013, Charlotte Ballet has partnered with Dance Theatre of Harlem to hire DTH students for Charlotte Ballet II. “In an audition with hundreds of dancers we'd only see one, maybe a handful of black dancers," says artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. “But we are in America and the world is very diverse and we have to do something ourselves." This season, Charlotte Ballet will have two African American dancers in the main company, both hired through a regular company audition. The second company has one African American dancer; another was offered a contract through the DTH initiative but declined.
The Washington Ballet is also taking a more proactive approach to diversifying its company. This season, it has launched a new program called Let's Dance Together and has brought Arthur Mitchell on as an artistic adviser specifically for the initiative. The program aims to bring in new dancers of color, provide a stronger support system for its pre-professional students who come from diverse backgrounds and promote choreographers of color. Former DTH dancer Ashley Murphy has also joined the company, though Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre was careful to point out that Murphy was not recruited. But he says attracting a dancer of Murphy's stature was a part of his long-held goal to improve diversity at the company. “We have always had a commitment to diversity, and as a Cuban American I was sensitive to the fact that even though Cubans have always been part of ballet, I was still somehow an outsider to some degree."
These are just the latest in a series of efforts by The Washington Ballet, which have included regularly turning to Mitchell and DTH artistic director Virginia Johnson for valuable advice and bringing in Copeland last season to perform with Brooklyn Mack in Swan Lake. The company's roster this season will include three black, five Latino and three Asian dancers out of 21 total. “We have made a real effort to send out a message to the ballet world that this is an organization that welcomes dancers of all cultures and complexions," says Webre. “It's really taken some time for directors to feel comfortable talking about this subject, but now the topic is out in the ether. Misty is a big part of that. And people aren't just talking now, they're really trying to find ways to do something about it."
As you're prepping your Thanksgiving meal, why not throw in a dash of dance?
This year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is stuffed (pun intended) with performances from four stellar Broadway shows, the Radio City Rockettes and students from three New York City dance institutions.
Tune in to NBC November 28 from 9 am to noon (in all time zones), or catch the rebroadcast at 2 pm (also in all time zones). Here's what's in store:
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Last week, Variety reported that Sergei Polunin would reunite with the team behind Dancer for another documentary. "Where 'Dancer' looked at his whole life, family and influences," director Steven Cantor said, " 'Satori' will focus more squarely on his creative process as performer and, for the first time ever, choreographer." The title references a poorly received evening of work by the same name first presented by Polunin in 2017. (It recently toured to Moscow and St. Petersburg.)
I cannot be the only person wondering why we should care.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.