Tag: Ballet

FEATURE: Misty Copeland Channels Degas’ Ballerinas for Photo Shoot, Opens Up about Making History

Copeland re-creates Degas’s The Star; Valentino dress, $15,500, 212-355-5811; Wilhelm headpiece, $495, and corsages, $135, wilhelm-nyc.com; Mokuba ribbon, $11 per yard, 212-869-8900. Photos by Ken Browar & Deborah Ory (via harpersbazaar.com)

Ballet dancers, Misty Copeland tells me, like to be in control. It’s something about ballet itself—the painstaking quest to achieve the appearance of a kind of effortless athleticism, fluidity, and grace—that makes it hard to let go. “I think all dancers are control freaks a bit,” she explains. “We just want to be in control of ourselves and our bodies. That’s just what the ballet structure, I think, kind of puts inside of you. If I’m put in a situation where I am not really sure what’s going to happen, it can be overwhelming. I get a bit anxious.”

Copeland says that’s part of the reason she found posing for the images that accompany this story—which were inspired by Edgar Degas‘s paintings and sculptures of dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet—a challenge. “It was interesting to be on a shoot and to not have the freedom to just create like I normally do with my body,” she says. “Trying to re-create what Degas did was really difficult. It was amazing just to notice all of the small details but also how he still allows you to feel like there’s movement. That’s what I think is so beautiful and difficult about dance too. You’re trying to strive for this perfection, but you still want people to get that illusion that your line never ends and that you never stop moving.”

It should probably come as no surprise that Copeland would have trouble conforming to someone else’s idea of what a ballerina should look like; she gave that up a long time ago. At 33, she’s in the midst of the most illuminating pas de deux with pop culture for a classical dancer since Mikhail Baryshnikov went toe-to-toe with Gregory Hines in White Nights. Last June, she was named a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, the first African-American woman to hold that distinction.

Copeland as Swaying Dancer (Dancer in Green); Oscar de la Renta dress, $5,490, 212-288-5810; Mokuba ribbon, $11 per yard; Hatmaker by Jonathan Howard headpiece corsage, $70, hatmaker.com.au. (photo by Ken Browar & Deborah Ory)

She was also the subject of a documentary, Nelson George’s A Ballerina’s Tale, which chronicled her triumph over depression and body-image issues, as well as her comeback from a career-threatening leg injury in 2012. The story of her rise from living in a single room in a welfare motel with her mother and five siblings to the uppermost reaches of the dance world has become a sort of 21st-century parable: the unlikely ballerina, as Copeland referred to herself in the subtitle of her 2014 memoir, Life in Motion, who may be on her way to becoming the quintessential ballerina of her time.

Degas’s ballet works, which the artist began creating in the 1860s and continued making until the years before his death, in 1917, were infused with a very modern sensibility. Instead of idealized vis -ions of delicate creatures pirouetting onstage, he offered images of young girls congregating, practicing, laboring, dancing, training, and hanging around studios and the backstage areas of the theater. Occasionally, portly men or dark figures appear, directing or otherwise coloring the proceedings. “People call me the painter of dancing girls,” Degas is said to have once told his Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard, the Larry Gagosian of the day. “It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.” It’s an unsentimental place, Degas’s ballet, and his representation of the dancers is far from sympathetic. But it’s a space where he discovered not only a freedom for himself as an artist but also a kind of beauty that existed behind all the beauty of the performance and in the struggle of his subjects to become something.

Copeland as Degas’s Dancer; Carolina Herrera top, $1,490, skirt, $4,990, 212-249-6552; Hatmaker by Jonathan Howard headpiece, $750, hatmaker.com.au; Mokuba ribbon, $11 per yard, 212-869-8900; Mood Fabrics fabric (worn as a belt), 212-230-5003. (photo by Ken Browar & Deborah Ory)

“Degas’s focus on dance is part of his engagement with depicting the subjects, spaces, rhythms, and sensations of modern life,” says Jodi Hauptman, senior curator in the department of drawings and prints at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where an exhibition that explores Degas’s extensive work in monotype, “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” opens this month. “His vision wanders and focuses, taking note of what usually is overlooked and homing in on what best reflects the conditions of his time.”

In her own way, Copeland is now forcing people to look at ballet through a more contemporary lens. “I see a great affinity between Degas’s dancers and Misty,” says Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. “She has knocked aside a long-standing music-box stereotype of the ballerina and replaced it with a thoroughly modern, multicultural image of presence and power,” Golden says. “Misty reminds us that even the greatest artists are humans living real lives.”

“I definitely feel like I can see myself in that sculpture…Ballet was just the one thing that brought me to life.”

The first blush with ballet for Copeland was famously unromantic. Her mother, Sylvia DelaCerna, was a cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs, and her older sister had been a member of the drill team at their middle school in Hawthorne, near their home in San Pedro, California. So, at the age of 13, Copeland decided to try out for the drill squad herself, choreographing her own routine—to George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex.” “An odd choice of song,” she says. “I chose ‘I Want Your Sex’ not really knowing anything about what that meant. But that’s how my whole dance career took off.”

Copeland as Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen; Alexander McQueen dress, $4,655, and corset, $4,525, 212-645-1797; Mood Fabrics ribbon (in hair), 212-230-5003. (photo by Ken Browar & Deborah Ory)

Copeland didn’t just make the team; she was named captain. Her drill coach, Elizabeth Cantine, had a background in classical dance and suggested that Copeland try taking a ballet class at the local Boys & Girls Club. “The class was given on a basketball court, and I was wearing my gym clothes and socks—pretty far from a Degas painting,” Copeland recalls. But she was hooked. Within three months, she was dancing en pointe. “Before dance came into my life, I don’t really remember having any major goals or dreams of wanting to be anything. In the environment I grew up in, we were constantly in survival mode,” Copeland says. “I went to school, and I was really just trying to fit in and not be seen. But ballet was this thing that just felt so innate in me, like I was meant to be doing this.”

To read more go to: http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/art-books-music/a14055/misty-copeland-degas-0316/?mag=har&list=nl_hnl_news&src=nl&date=021016

R.I.P. Maria Tallchief, America’s 1st Native-American Prima Ballerina

Maria Tallchief

The New York Times reports today that Maria Tallchief, daughter of an Oklahoma oil family who grew up on an Indian reservation, found her way to New York and became one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Chicago.  She was 88.  Her daughter, the poet Elise Paschen, confirmed the death. Ms. Tallchief lived in Chicago.

Ms. Tallchief, a former wife and muse to the choreographer George Balanchine, achieved renown with Balanchine’s City Ballet, dazzling audiences with her speed, energy and fire. Indeed, the part that catapulted her to acclaim, in 1949, was the title role in the version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” one of many that Balanchine created for her.  In addition to “Firebird,” Balanchine created many striking roles for her, including those of the Swan Queen in his version of “Swan Lake,” the Sugar Plum Fairy in his version of “The Nutcracker,” Eurydice in “Orpheus” and principal roles in such plotless works as “Sylvia Pas de Deux,” “Allegro Brillante,” “Pas de Dix” and “Scotch Symphony.”

A daughter of an Osage Indian father and a Scottish-Irish mother, Ms. Tallchief left Oklahoma at an early age, but she was long associated with the region nevertheless. She was one of five dancers of Indian heritage, all born in Oklahoma at roughly the same time, who came to be called the Oklahoma Indian ballerinas; the others included her sister, Marjorie Tallchief, as well as Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin and Yvonne Chouteau.  Growing up at a time when many American dancers adopted Russian stage names, Ms. Tallchief, proud of her Indian heritage, refused to do so, even though friends told her that it would be easy to transform Tallchief into Tallchieva.

 In 2007, PBS aired the documentary, “Maria Tallchief” about this Kennedy Center Honor recipient’s life and work.   To read more about Tallchief, click here.  To watch Tallchief narrate her stunning “Firebird” solo, click below:

article by Jack Anderson via nytimes.com; additional reporting by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

Ballerina Misty Copeland Dances into Two-Book Deal

misty-copeland-hb

(Misty Copeland/Photo: Hello Beautiful) 

Ballet dancer Misty Copeland has a two-book deal.  Copeland, 30, is working on a memoir for Simon & Schuster‘s Touchstone imprint and picture book for G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, part of Penguin Group (USA). Copeland helped break ground as an African-American female soloist for the American Ballet Theatre. According to a release Wednesday by the two publishers, both of her books are scheduled for 2014.

In her memoir, Copeland is expected to describe the battles between her mother and her dance instructors while she was a teen over whether she should be allowed to pursue her career and who was her legal guardian.

article via blackamericaweb.com

Michaela DePrince: Ballerina Dances Out of War-Torn Childhood

As a toddler, Michaela DePrince, was ranked “number 27” — the lowest, the worst of the children in her orphanage in Sierra Leone. “So, I got the least amount of food, the least amount of clothes and what not,” she explained to the Associated Press. DePrince lost both of her parents in the West African nation’s decades-long civil war which claimed the lives of an estimated 60,000 people. She was born with vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes uneven pigmentation, and was taunted by the other kids as “the devil’s child.” Fourteen years later, she is considered one of the most promising teenage ballet dancers in the United States. Recently graduated from the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the 17-year-old debuts professionally on July 20, as a guest artist of the South African Ballet Theater and the South Africa Msanzi Ballet performing in ‘Le Corsaire.’

DePrince recalls her early childhood as a time of “terrible” hardship. The one thing that gave her hope was a picture of a ballerina from a magazine that blew over the orphanage walls, which she hid under her clothing. Though she had no context for the image, she says, “I remember she looked really, really happy,” and DePrince longed “to become this exact person.” She also imagined that all Americans walked on tip toes.

Watch: Ballet Theater of Harlem

After a year in the orphanage, DePrince had to flee barefoot when it was threatened with bomb attacks. She was only four-years-old. She ended up in a Ghanaian refugee camp, where she met an American volunteer, Elaine DePrince, who would become her adopted mother. “Michaela arrived with the worst case of tonsillitis, fever, mononucleosis, and joints that were swollen,” remembers Elaine. She was also suffering from trauma. “I have a lot of bad memories,” the young dancer told theGuardian UK in a recent interview. “I remember losing my family, I remember seeing a lot of rebels killing people that I knew. It was disgusting and just revolting.”

Although it took her years to fully recover, Michaela says, “Dance helped me a lot. I had a lot of nightmares.” However, DePrince had to overcome even more than physical and psychological damage to become a professional ballet dancer in the United States. Rehearsing for ‘The Nutcracker‘ when she was eight-years-old, a teacher told her “I’m sorry, you can’t do it. America’s not ready for a black girl as Marie.” She refused to let it hold her back. “If you enjoy my dancing, why should my skin color or body type bother you?” she told the NY Post. Dirk Badenhorst, CEO South Africa Mzansi Ballet, concurs: “Brilliance is colorblind and it really is proved by Michaela.”

DePrince hopes her story will inspire other young people to follow their dreams no matter how distant they seem. “I would like to change the way people see black dancers,” she says. “I just want to be a great role model for kids.”

article by Sarah B. Weir, Yahoo! blogger | Work + Money