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BWW Review: Misty Copeland is a Principal Ballerina of Great Worth

In her first season as principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has hit the stage glowing. Dancing both new roles, to her, and those she has performed before, while still a soloist with the company, she brought new life and light to the ballets. At every performance, the excitement throughout the audience was palpable, from the moment they entered the Metropolitan Opera House, N.Y.C., to the explosion of applause, calls of brava, and other vocalizations of appreciation at the end of each performance.

Copeland's first performance of this season was at the Gala performance, May 16, 2016, which was at the start of ABT's second week of performances. She danced the title role in the Firebird, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, to the music of Igor Stravinsky, which was presented in its entirety, last on the program. I had seen her dance this role in 2012, the last performance she danced before taking time off to deal with a serious injury. She gave an impressive performance, amazing considering the extent of her injury. In this season's Firebird, she was on fire. Her bird flew, struggled to free herself, and enchanted both the other dancers on the stage and the audience. The growth she has made since then was evident in her Firebird come to life. It was thrilling to be in attendance.

On May 25.2016, I was present for Copeland's debut as Lise in Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee, to the engaging music of Ferdinand Herold. She injected a fresh attitude into this character, rather than simply copying ballerinas of old in versions of this ballet since its debut in 1959, by The Royal Ballet, London. The work was inspired by a 1789 painting by Pierre-Antoine Baudouin, in a simpler time. With her dramatic sense, we could see the character of Lise of a time gone by, infused by aspects of a relatable girl of today. Her technique, too, was flawless. She was charming and equal in every way to her brilliant partner, Herman Cornejo. I cannot remember having enjoyed a presentation of this ballet as much.

Copeland reprised her role as Gulnare in Le Corsaire, staged by Anna-Marie Holmes after choreography of Marius Petipas and Konstantin Sergeyev, to music of Adolphe Adam, Cesar Pugni, Leo Delibes, Ricardo Drigo, and Prince Oldenbourg. Her performance on June 3, 2016 demonstrated her own personal evolution as well as the growth she has accomplished with continued work on a single part in a ballet. Here both her technical abilities and her ability to tell a story via her role's choreography and personality were on display.

The Golden Cockerel, Alexei Ratmansky's choreography, inspired by Michael Fokine's original production of Le Coq D'Or, to the music of Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, was premiered by ABT this season. Copeland danced the lead role of the Queen of Shemakhan for the first time on June 8, 2016. Her portrayal of this character was the highlight of the ballet. She was beguiling, taking on the exotic, alluring persona of this Queen as she seduced the Tsar, making him fall in love with her, and carried out her schemes, all the while dancing with the fluidity of her supple body and high extension. I, too, was taken in, mesmerized by her characterization in this ballet which relied on dramatic interpretation. For me, she made this the stand-out role of The Golden Cockerel.

Copeland's opportunity to revisit the iconic role of Odette/Odile, in Swan Lake, came on June 15, 2015, matinee performance. Her first appearance, in the Prologue, set the stage. It was her extraordinary acting ability, along with her gorgeous, expressive arms and quick, demonstrative feet which told the story of her meeting and subsequent capture by the evil sorcerer, Von Rothbart, played by Patrick Ogle and Sterling Baca. Odette/Odile has long been touted as the most difficult female role in the classical repertoire. I am sorry to say that she was not well supported by her Prince Siegfied, Danil Simkin, who has much more growing to do to become a good partner, leaving Copeland with the added job of taking up the slack. It takes many performances of Swan Lake for a ballerina to grow into her vision of this swan queen. When Copeland performed this role for the first time at New York's Metropolitan Opera House last year, I was fortunate to be in attendance. She was beautiful. This season, her technical improvement was on display. Her characterization had matured as well, her swan's beauty multiplied. I look forward to seeing where she takes her Odette/Odile in future incarnations, hopefully with a different partner.

Juliet, in the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, offered Copeland the opportunity to grow her characterization from innocent, young girl to experienced, young married woman. Her childlike behavior was believable, making the audience see a playful girl. Her rebellion against her parent's demands that she marry Paris, played by Sterling Baca (possibly the most appealing Paris I have seen), exhibits adolescent dissidence, uniting adolescence of Shakespeare's time with the attitude of an adolescent of today. Unfortunately, she was again partnered by Simkin, her Romeo. He was not able to accomplish a few of the lifts, which one would suppose might shake any partner, yet she seemed unfazed and did not skip a beat. Copeland is a great actress, a trait apparent in the best dancers. The unity of this sense of dramatic portrayal, physical ability, and technique makes this dancer a superior ballerina.

I so look forward to the further blossoming of Misty Copeland, truly a ballerina of worth.

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

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