The Seven Best Scenes in the New Misty Movie
A new documentary directed by filmmaker Nelson George reveals the grace and graciousness of Misty Copeland. Titled A Ballerina’s Tale, it covers a difficult two years in the dancer's life, from a career-threatening injury right after her debut in Ratmansky’s Firebird up to her recovery and rise to principal at American Ballet Theatre. Inspiring and intimate, it will be released in theaters October 14 but you can catch it at film festivals starting this Saturday.
Misty Copeland in Nelson George's "A Ballerina's Tale," Courtesy of Oskar Landi. © Urban Romances, Inc. A Sundance Selects Release.
After seeing an advance screening and Q & A at Bowtie Cinemas in Chelsea last night, I would say these are the most memorable scenes.
1. Archival footage of Misty rehearsing as a slender 13-year old, probably her first year studying ballet, plus stage clips of herself as a teenager in Don Q, reveal the miracle that is Misty. After only two years of training, she was invited to join the Studio Company at ABT. In this footage you can see how completely she inhabited the ballet idiom from the start—classical arms, lifted chest, energized spine, gorgeous legs and feet, and natural musicality. The word prodigy is not uttered, but how else to describe this phenomenon?
2. To the strains of Minkus violin music, she dances Gamzatti’s solo from La Bayadère alone on a dark stage. You see how elegantly poignant she can be, even though it is clearly a made-for-camera performance.
Misty with Raven Wilkinson, photo by Nelson George
3. In her own living room, Misty meets with Raven Wilkinson, who was the one African American dancer with the Ballet Russe. Together they go over the choreography for the cynettes (“little swans”), with Raven humming the tune and the two of them marking with their feet and turning their heads in sync.
4. While performing in Rome, Misty gets a back spasm and has to resort to a local chiropractor—who manhandles her. Everyone in the audience flinches as he tackles her full on, crunches her joints, and whips her head around. But at the Q & A afterward, Nelson George told us that she went back to the same practitioner the next day.
5. Susan Fales-Hill, who has mentored Misty, talks about the guys she knows “who would rather fight in Iraq or have a root canal than go to the ballet” —and these guys are now buying tickets to the Met because they’ve seen Misty in photos or videos.
6. The moment when Misty turns a corner and sees a giant billboard of herself, she lets out a sort of groan-guffaw. By that point in the shooting, she was totally comfortable under the camera’s eye and was at ease just being herself.
7. OK, it’s not part of the film, but at the Q & A afterward, Misty showed her usual sweetness in answering questions. She wrapped up by saying “Ballet is life, pain, and beauty…If you don’t love it, it’s just not worth it.”
The film makes us realize how close Misty came, due to her debilitating leg injury, to never dancing again. If that had happened, it means we would have had to wait much longer for an African American female dancer to be named principal at ABT. And we would have been deprived of Misty’s dancing in all the roles we will now get to see her in.
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But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"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.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.