“It’s exciting, especially in this time, to be portraying a powerful woman who is not wooed by a man. She is taking charge,” Copeland said.
It wouldn’t feel I was being true to myself to speak about these things and go on stage and be this depressed slave woman.
“It’s a nice, positive message for young girls and boys to see in this day and age.”
In this day and age, the programs of classical ballet companies are still replete with traditional productions where the representations of women and people of colour are far from empowering. How do you reckon with those roles as a star dancer?
Copeland, 37, said after a lifetime of performing characters she has found problematic she now refuses to dance certain ballets. When she goes en pointe, she wants to be sure she is making the right point. There are some staple ballets and roles that can be held onto, Copeland said, but others should be let go.
“It’s really challenging being a principal dancer with the climate we are in today but I have the ability and the power to make decisions. I have definitely turned down roles I have danced my whole career that don’t really make sense in the time we are living in today,” Copeland said.
Now in a position of influence with a memoir, film credit and an apparel line to her name as well as 1.7 million followers on Instagram, Copeland has been outspoken about the lack of diversity in ballet and the challenges she has faced relating to race, body shape and class.
“I think at this point, not just because of how it looks or sounds, but for my own peace of mind, it wouldn’t feel I was being true to myself to take the stance and speak about these things and go on stage and be this depressed slave woman.”
Becoming a principal dancer, Copeland said, allowed her to see the broader significance ballet can hold and her role in shaping conversations about change. And Sylvia the slayer may just be the most fierce role she has danced yet.
“We are not in a bubble. The world is watching us. Especially in my position, having so many platforms that reach so many people, it’s important for me to represent who I am and what I say, on the stage as well.”
Misty Copeland dances Sylvia with the Australian Ballet on November 12