Ballet pioneer Misty Copeland is shattering another ceiling.
The esteemed American Ballet Theatre (ABT) dancer will team up with Calvin Royal III to perform in Harlequinade as a couple, reports the Los Angeles Times. The pairing is monumental because it is very rare to see two Black dancers perform as leads. It’s even rarer to see them do it as a couple.
They will portray secondary leads Pirrette and Pierrot, and will become ABT's first ever Black couple dancing in lead roles.
The significance of this accomplishment isn’t lost on Royal, who joined ABT in 2010 and didn’t become a soloist until 2017.
“I remember being that person looking to ABT and hoping that I could see myself there. By us being in that position, we’ll do that for somebody else,” he said. “To finally be able to take the stage, two leading dancers in a production with ABT, I see it as such a huge step forward in terms of visibility.”
Copeland is used to paving the way for future dancers. Her brown skin, socioeconomic background and nontraditional body make her stand out, and she embraces her differences.
“I don’t have to follow in anyone else’s path. I don’t have to look like the person next to me,” she told Forbes in November. “I didn't have a typical path or journey of what people expect from a classical dancer, not growing up in a family that's supportive or that has money, not being white,” she said.
She became the troupe’s first Black female principal dancer almost four years ago.
“Beyond my personal goals as a ballerina, I want to celebrate, elevate and give opportunities to talented Black and brown dancers to share the stage with me while I have the power and presence that I do. And to build a structure which can continue to exist beyond me,” Copeland said.
This will not be the first time the couple has worked together. Copeland personally chose Royal as her partner for a charity dance. She also brought him in for her shoot for the famed Pirelli tire company calendar. Their shoot was a departure for Copeland, who portrays an exotic dancer with dreams of going to Paris.
“My character is in a relationship with a dancer, and he actually is a coworker of mine, Calvin Royal, who plays my boyfriend within this story that Albert created. I just think it was captured so beautifully, and just to see all of the struggles, and things that dancers face. You know, we’re often struggling to financially survive and get to where we want to get to, and my dream was getting to Paris to dance as a classical dancer,” she told People Magazine last month.
Royal and Copeland are the only Black dancers in ABT history to dance as principals and soloists.
She believes Royal’s “exquisite talent” speaks for itself. Seeing them together is magic and much-needed representation.
“When two talented dancers can come together, it’s ideal and exciting. But when two of those dancers are Black, it’s explosive. At least for me!” she said. “I’ve always put Calvin at the forefront of my mind to bring with me as a partner whenever I’m doing gigs outside of ABT. It’s because of his talent first and foremost, but also the significance and importance to our communities for two Black dancers to dance together. It’s rare. Like REALLY rare.”
Harlequinade will premiere at Segerstrom Hall in California on Friday.
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