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ARTISTS ACTIVATED: Misty Copeland, A Real-Live Disney Princess in "The Nutcracker and The Four Realms," Chisels Away at Ballet Stereotypes

ARTISTS ACTIVATED: Misty Copeland, A Real-Live Disney Princess in "The Nutcracker and The Four Realms," Chisels Away at Ballet Stereotypes
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on October 16, 2018
Laurie Sparham, for Disney

See Misty Copeland Dance with American Ballet Theatre and at the movies in the New Disney Film "The Nutcracker and The Four Realms"

American Ballet Theatre’s Fall Season opens at the David H. Koch Theater on October 17th, and dance enthusiasts from NYC and beyond eagerly await Misty Copeland’s performances. The ballerina makes star turns this season in Jessica Lang’s long-anticipated world premiere, Garden Blue; Twyla Tharp’s magnificent In the Upper Room; Wayne McGregor’s AfterRite, the British award-winner’s first choreography for ABT; and Alexei Ratmansky’s 2010 new-traditional version of The Nutcracker pas de deux

Copeland, the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre in the company’s 78-year history (shockingly in the year 2015), embodies the rare phenomenon of ballerina celebrity. Known as much for her Under Armour I Will What I Want campaign and her Instagram presence, as she is for her impressive portrayal of The Firebird, Copeland continually attracts new audiences to the art form. One notable appreciator, President Barack Obama, invited her to be a member of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in 2014. I can’t think of another classical ballerina in history with such popular appeal, except Margot Fonteyn.
Misty Copeland in brilliant red feathered headress, red and sliver outfit as the Firebird for American Ballet Theatre
Misty Copeland as the Firebird in Firebird with the American Ballet Theatre photo by Rosalie O'Connor 

When not dancing, Copeland chooses to be involved in projects that chisel away at the elitism, stereotypical views, and prejudice that have kept ballet inaccessible to many. Hers is an assured, gentle activism with an expansive view of what ballet can be and who can dance. She focuses on mentoring and acting as a role model to the younger generation, especially the “little brown girls” whom Copeland often mentions as her inspiration when facing adversity. She was once a little brown girl in San Pedro, California, dancing in the gym of a Boys and Girls Club, never imagining she could be a prima ballerina.

Misty Copeland's Instagram Feed focusing on the Dancer's Social Engagement 

Most recently in Rwanda with the MindLeaps Project, an organization that uses dance to develop the cognitive skills and social-emotional learning of at-risk youth, Copeland described working with a group of young people, saying, “It opens your eyes and shows you the value of art, how much it can really help people to reach pieces of themselves and grow as people, or do better and school.”


Considering her passion for young people, it was a no-brainer for the artist to jump at the chance to join the cast of the new Disney movie The Nutcracker and The Four Realms. Set up to be a Christmas blockbuster, this unusual take on The Nutcracker fuses and twists the dark, magic mystery of, perhaps, a “Harry Potter” movie, or even a Tim Burton work, with characters and elements of the traditional holiday ballet story.  Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston and loaded with high-caliber acting power — Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger; Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer; Kiera Knightly as The Sugar Plum Fairy — the film needed dance cred.

Misty Copeland Publicity Still Courtesy Disney 

Says Copeland, “When Disney was creating the casting, thinking of how they were going to tell the story —which is not the same story as the ballet — they felt there was no way that people would truly feel that it was really The Nutcracker without ballet in it — so they thought of me. And I was just like oh My God, if they could make it work around my ABT schedule, I’d love to do it.”

Disney made it work. Copeland shot her scenes with no retakes in the space of one fast and furious week so she could quickly get back to rehearsal.


Copeland, known as The Ballerina in the film, introduces her fellow characters to the story of the four realms, dancing excerpts from the Waltz of the Flowers, the Waltz of the Snowflakes, and the Battle Scene, “a montage of what the ballet is,” as the cast looks on.

Disney pulled out all the stops for their dancer, asking her to choose which choreographer she would like to work with. She chose London’s Royal Ballet resident choreographer, Liam Scarlett.

“Luckily, I got Liam Scarlett to agree to be the choreographer, and it was such a blessing. More than a choreographer, he was on the set with me, warming up all the other dancers that were part of the movie as well. And, he was behind the lens looking at the screen and checking that the most flattering angles for a dancer were always used. He deserves so much credit.”

Misty Copeland, The Ballerina, in Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms 

Copeland, whose favorite dance movies are The Turning Point and The Red Shoes, and whose favorite Disney movies are Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, can’t wait to see her very own Disney dance movie when it opens officially on November 2nd.

“To be part of something that will live on for generations, and to be able to have so many kids grow up to see a brown ballerina in a Disney film — that’s incredible.”

Note for Dance Enthusiasts- also in the film are the wondrous Lil' Buck and Sergei Polunin! 

It's time to #getenthused and go to the movies.

The Dance Enthusiast Covers The Stories Behind Dance Performance, Speaking with Artists, and Creating Conversation
For more Behind-the-Scenes Stories of the NYC Dance World Click on our Day In The Life of Dance Section


AND for some dance inspiration for EVERYBODY, Read The Dance Enthusiast Hits the Streets: Misty Copeland & Carmen de Lavallade Teach Ballet Class at Harlem Stage 


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