Misty Copeland and her co-star Brooklyn Mack have broken another barrier as the first pair of Black dancers ever to lead a mainstream production of Swan Lake!
When Copeland took the stage this weekend in Washington, DC, it was history in motion because she is one of the first Black women to take on the lead role in the iconic ballet. Dancing alongside Mack, this marks the first time the central couple was played by Black people in a predominantly White cast.
The pair continued the tradition of Black dancers performing this ballet. The Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Capitol Ballet Company have both had productions of Swan Lake.
From what she told BBC, she never thought she could have played the role during her career because of her appearance.
“Swan Lake was not something I ever saw in my future, in terms of dancing the lead. It’s just something so ingrained in the ballet culture and us as dancers that you just envision a certain type of person portraying that role,” Copeland stated, explaining as subtly as possible that the role would typically go to a White dancer. “It’s incredible to be able to be a brown swan.”
Defying the odds has always been part of Copeland’s incredible career, which has paved the way for more Black girls to strap on their slippers and learn a few steps. More than that, Copeland has not been quiet about racial bias in ballet. Using her platform and raising awareness about the problem has made it a little easier for the girls coming up behind her.
“I do see a change. And as much criticism as I get for talking about it as much as I do, I think it’s forcing people to make changes,” said Copeland. “It’s putting a spotlight in the ballet world in a way that it’s never been done before.”
Meanwhile Copeland’s partner, Mack, is taking the long view and looking forward to a time where having a Black ballerina starring in big productions is more regularly seen.
He shared, “I do want it to get to a point where there is not such a disparity so that it’s not out of the ordinary or a big deal to see two African-Americans on stage.”