Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American principal ballerina in its 75-year history, is featured in practically every ballet performed during the company’s current season (now through July 7). Making history with every pas de bourrée, she dances the lead in such iconic ballets as “Giselle,” “Swan Lake,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Don Quixote” and in new works such as Alexi Ratmansky’s “Firebird” and “Whipped Cream” and Wayne McGregor’s “AFTERITE.”
In the contemporary “Firebird,” Ratmansky’s lusciously picturesque work set to Igor Stravinsky’s score, Copeland is the legendary creature who helps two lovers overcome an evil sorcerer. Wearing a flaming red costume with a feathered headdress, she captures the other-worldly quality of this magical, mythical bird in a performance that displays both her technical and dramatic brilliance.
“Giselle,” on the other hand is the epitome of classical romantic ballets and one of ABT’s signature productions. In it, Copeland, like so many great ballerinas before her, becomes the fragile young peasant girl at the center of this tale of love, betrayal, remorse and forgiveness through her seamless fusion of music and movement, making one the embodiment of the other. Shining in the ballet’s second act graveyard scene, Copeland embodies the spirit of the now dead young girl floating effortlessly and flawlessly through space, skimming the stage with pirouettes and jetés that seem propelled as much by the music as her passionate desire to save the life of the man she loves.
While Copeland’s technical skill is on full display throughout the season, so too are what has been called her “real acting chops.” As she embodies a character and communicates through movement, Copeland gives each arabesque and pirouette the subtle phrasing that transforms traditional ballet d’école steps into a language that tells a story filled with nuance and emotion. This remarkable quality has been evident throughout the season and will no doubt be apparent in upcoming performances of “Swan Lake” (Wednesday evening, June 20 and Saturday matinee, June 23) and “Don Quixote” (Wednesday evening June 27). Copeland will also appear in the delightfully light-hearted froth of a ballet that is Ratmansky’s “Whipped Cream,” a feast for the eyes that charms adults and delights kids Tuesday, July 3 and Friday evening, July 6. The beauty of ballet (and any dance, for that matter), for dancers at Copeland’s level, lies in the fact that no two performances are ever the same. The “Swan Lake” you see this season will be different from the “Swan Lake” you saw last season. Therefore, the audience is delighted by the evolving displays of technical brilliance and ever-changing interpretations reflected in nuances of phrasing.
Recently, the Amsterdam News caught up with Copeland in the midst of a whirlwind schedule of ballet classes, rehearsals, the launch of her latest signature Misty Copeland Collection of fitness gear for Under Armour—a mix of leather and lace—the media interviews and the excitement of upcoming appearance in the Disney live-action film, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” starring Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and others, including Lil Buck. Then, too, there is her recent appearance in Drake’s “Nice for What” music video.