Copeland Brings Art and Diversity to ‘Swan Lake’ at Wolf Trap

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Misty Copeland in "Swan Lake" at Wolf Trap. Photo by Scott Suchman for Wolf Trap.

The moment she fluttered on the stage, the crowd erupted in applause, a rare occurrence at a ballet.

Indeed, not many ballerinas are recognizable, but at Wolf Trap last weekend, Misty Copeland was a star attraction.

Not only for her talent, but for an accomplishment that resonates in our diverse community: In 2015, Copeland became the first African-American principal ballerina in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.

Copeland performed the iconic Odette role in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” July 12, but unlike her character, an ill-fated princess who is cursed by an evil sorcerer, Copeland has turned her life into a fairy tale.

Although she didn’t start dancing until her early teens, Copeland rose from a hard knocks upbringing in California into the ballet world’s most unconventional of success stories-parlaying her fame into a modeling gig with Estée Lauder, a book deal, documentary — and even a music video appearance with the late rock star, Prince.

Copeland is also a leading advocate for inclusion of minorities in the arts, and Friday night’s performance was evidence that she’s making progress.

The crowd was filled with faces of color, many of them with dreams of being the next Misty.

Copeland is also challenging the idea of what a ballerina looks like.

“She should be soft, delicate, and sylph-like. Black woman are thought of as strong and aggressive,” Copeland has explained.

“I’ve seen the way it affects black women around me more. I never had issues with my color before becoming a professional. Not until then did I realize I was the only black woman in my company. It’s slowly changing, but not without a fight from me and the determination I have to make it happen,” she said.

Wolf Trap’s summer schedule continues with musicals, opera, Reba McEntire, Ringo Starr and Sting, among other artists.

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