REEL MOTION: Misty Copeland rises from prodigy to professional

Mar 25, 2019

Dancer challenges and changes the classical ballet norm

Welcome to Reel Motion, a series of blog posts that examine the Northrop Film Series selections. Find out more about the screening of A Ballerina’s Tale on Wed, Mar 27 at 6:30 pm ahead of American Ballet Theatre’s performance at Northrop on Tue, Apr 2 as well as INSPIRED: A Conversation with Misty Copeland on Sun, Mar 31.

Being the first at anything is a thankless job. Misty Copeland, the first black principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre's history, the first black principal dancer of any major ballet company in the world, is profiled at a critical point in her career in A Ballerina's Tale. Nelson George's 2015 documentary follows Copeland as she deals with a potentially career-ending injury. Of course, in 2019 we know that she has continued to be a fierce presence on the ballet stage as well as a multi-media sensation that gives back to her community by mentoring young girls and boys though her charitable work.

On the face of it, the film follows a rise-struggle-preserve narrative that isn't any different than any other sports film or similar profile of an artist. What makes this film special is Copeland herself, the example she sets, and the excellence she inspires simply by being herself. Part study in the physicality of ballet and the pain dancers endure for their art and part personal discovery of the untold history of black female dancers in ballet, A Ballerina's Tale gives its audience an intimate idea of the more subtle and insidious obstacles Copeland faced in her rise to stardom.

Though it does touch on her personal back story, the film doesn't dwell on it. Even by the time this film was originally released, Copeland already had been the subject of countless television interviews and profiles. As she stated in an interview with the Kansas City Star, “My story has been told. I’m past this being just about me. What I wanted was a platform to share stories that most people don’t know about, stories about how difficult it is to succeed in the classical ballet world as a black woman.”

A Ballerina's Tale was programmed to connect with American Ballet Theatre's performance at Northrop on Tue, Apr 2. While Copeland is not performing on Apr 2, there is the opportunity to see Misty Copeland live at Northrop two days before on Sunday, Mar 31 as she brings her message of empowering youth worldwide to Minneapolis.

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