Misty Copeland performing with ABT. Photo: Gene Schiavone.
Misty Copeland is the ballerina from San Pedro who LA Observed has told you about a few times before. Today she was named the first African-American female principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theater. She has been with the company for 14 years, nearly eight of those years as a soloist. From the New York Times news story:
She made the cover of Time magazine this year, was profiled by “60 Minutes” and presented a Tony Award on this year’s telecast. She has written a memoir and a children’s book, and has more than a half-million followers on Instagram. An online ad she made for Under Armour has been viewed more than 8 million times, and she is the subject of a documentary screened this year at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Over the past year, whenever Ms. Copeland, 32, danced leading roles with Ballet Theater, her performances became events, drawing large, diverse, enthusiastic crowds to cheer her on at the Metropolitan Opera house, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. After she starred in “Swan Lake” with Ballet Theater last week — becoming the first African-American to do so with the company at the Met — the crowd of autograph seekers was so large that people had to be moved away from the cramped stage door area.
Ms. Copeland, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was unusually outspoken about her ambition of becoming the first black woman named a principal dancer by Ballet Theater, one of the nation’s most prestigious companies, which is known for its international roster of stars and for staging full-length classical story ballets.
“My fears are that it could be another two decades before another black woman is in the position that I hold with an elite ballet company,” she wrote in her memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” published last year. “That if I don’t rise to principal, people will feel I have failed them.”
Copeland wrote her book with Charisse Jones, the former Los Angeles Times reporter. The NYT story has this photo of Copeland's eager young fans waiting at the stage entrance for her.
Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times
From Judy Graeme's profile of Copeland last year for our Native Intelligence blog:
In the book, Copeland herself speaks out for the first time about her emotionally turbulent and often financially precarious upbringing in San Pedro, the court battle between her mother, Sylvia DeLaCerna, and her ballet teacher, Cynthia Bradley, and her ascension in the world of classical ballet starting with her win at the 1997 Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards. The story continues with Copeland's opportunities outside of ABT, including performing with Prince, and her quest to become the first black female principal dancer in an elite ballet company.
Copeland, 31, discovered ballet at the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club, where she would spend after-school hours. Bradley, a former dancer, was teaching a class there and quickly realized that she had a dance prodigy on her hands. Copeland was 13 -- generally considered old for girls to start ballet training, but she demonstrated grace, flexibility and the capacity to quickly learn the fundamentals of ballet. She began studying more seriously at Bradley's school. To ease the commute between school and the Gardena motel where the family was living, DeLaCerna allowed her daughter to move in with Bradley and her family.
Copeland switched to home schooling and flourished in her new living arrangement. But after the success of the Spotlight Award, and a subsequent summer intensive course at San Francisco Ballet, she sensed that all was not well between her mother and Bradley. Resentment boiled over and DeLaCerna decided that Copeland, at the time 15, should move back to the motel. Plans were made for her to attend a new ballet school and enroll at San Pedro High School. At Bradley's suggestion, Copeland sued for emancipation. Gloria Allred was brought in to represent DeLaCerna and eventually the emancipation request was dropped. The unsavory episode had ended but Copeland describes in the book how she was traumatized and crushed. (Copeland writes of their relationship today, "I love my mother but I've never really understood her.")
Also in the news: Carla Körbes, who recently retired as a principal dancer at the Pacific Northwest Ballet, has been appointed associate artistic director of the LA Dance Project, reporting to Benjamin Millepied.