We have a special treat for Sydney this November - superstar Misty Copeland will be making her debut as Aurora in David McAllister's production of The Sleeping Beauty at the Capitol Theatre. A principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre, Misty has smashed worn-out perceptions of what a classical dancer should look like and opened up ballet to a mainstream audience. She sat down with Rose Mulready to discuss her unique take on dance.
So, you’re just about to debut as Aurora. What are the challenges of doing a huge role like that with an unfamiliar company, and how are you preparing for it?
It’s very interesting having the opportunity to guest with different companies. The preparation is always different. I’ve tried to plan it out so I had time to actually meet with the company and get enough coaching from them that I could really produce what they expect of a dancer. I’m going to start rehearsing right after [American Ballet Theatre’s] Fall season, and David Hallberg and I will be doing some rehearsals together, as he’ll be coming out for this season as well. We thought we’d work through some partnering things together, even though we won’t be dancing together.
I’ve never danced the full-length Beauty as a principal dancer, but the first classical work that I danced with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio company was the Act III wedding pas de deux, and I danced it with David! We were like, 17, and we haven’t danced together since. We both think it’s pretty hilarious.
I’ll be also working with a former principal dancer of Paris Opera Ballet, Karin Averty, and I’m going to really rely on her to share more of the in-depth nuances of Aurora and her character. My favourite thing to do is a full-length ballet, because I love telling a story through mime, through movement. It’s so gratifying as an artist, as an actress.Misty as Odette in Swan Lake. Photography Darren Thomas, courtesy of QPAC
You have requests to guest all over the world - what made you choose The Australian Ballet?
I have so much respect for the company. I know that there are so many incredible dancers who have been given the opportunity to come and guest with The Australian Ballet – David Hallberg, Gillian Murphy, Stella Abrera – I feel like it’s very warm and welcoming there. I hear nothing but incredible things from David, it’s like his second home now. Any opportunity I have to dance with dancers of that calibre, and to have an experience debuting a role – I’m going to jump at it!
You have worked with so many styles of dance – you've performed with Prince, and on Broadway – which ballet choreographers do you feel are the best fit with your style?
Early on in my career, I really enjoyed doing the more contemporary work. As a young dancer in a big company like American Ballet Theatre, you don’t really get many opportunities to do the big classical works, unless you’re in the corps de ballet. So I got my big opportunities in contemporary work. I enjoy the easy, organic movement in that form of dance, but the most gratifying works to me are the classics. It’s where my heart is, where I feel the most at home.
You started your ballet training at 13, which is a much later start than most dancers. That's an unusual journey – what has that given you?
It’s been a blessing and a curse, starting at such a late age. I feel like I came into it completely blind, and I purely fell in love with what I was doing every day in the studio. But at the same time, starting late … there are no short-cuts in ballet, and as a professional, I’m still learning so much. I’m grateful I wasn’t promoted until two years ago. I really don’t think that technically and artistically and stamina-wise I was ready to be a principal dancer until now. It’s been an interesting journey and I think that having been a part of the art form period, and classical ballet in particular, has made me the articulate, expressive, vulnerable, strong woman that I am.
It has been a long journey, but having the opportunity to collaborate with Under Armour, and Estée Lauder, and Seiko, all these incredible brands, has definitely given me a platform to speak on a broader level, and reach more people. It’s definitely brought in a whole new audience, and I saw that immediately after my first Under Armour commercial. American men taking an interest in classical ballet! It’s a huge thing for America, because we don’t have same respect for the big classical art forms as the Europeans do. I’ve definitely seen a huge shift in the audience members who come to see me perform, it’s been much more diverse. I think people feel more welcome, and like they can relate to the people on the stage.Misty as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Photography Rosalie O'Connor
You've had some tough struggles in your career, particularly with injury. Now that you are a principal dancer, do you feel the struggle is over? What is your next challenge?
As a principal dancer, the real challenges begin. It’s a different type of pressure and expectation and criticism that comes along with this honoured position. The fact that I’m a principal dancer doesn’t mean that I still don’t experience people saying negative things about me, or racist things. I feel that what I’ve worked for my whole career, and what I represent, is opening up the doors for the next generation. So the work is never going to be done! I feel like I’m just the beginning of giving hope to a whole generation of brown, curvy, athletic women.
How do you decompress from your busy career?
It’s funny you ask that! It’s all about balance, and any opportunity to have that downtime and release … like, at the moment I’m cooking – and that's one of my favourite things to do to decompress – listening to music, and cooking. Whenever I’m not travelling for work, I try to find two or three weeks out of the year so I can just get away with my husband and be on a beach and do nothing. My manager Gilda definitely makes it a point to ensure I have recovery time.
So, what are you cooking?
I’m making some braised kale and roasted carrots!Misty in Le Corsaire. Photography Marty Sohl