The Pacific Northwest Ballet is celebrating their 50th year anniversary by making history, recently naming Jonathan Batista as the first Black principal dancer, The Root reports.
We’ve recently reported on Black people who have shaken up the ballet world, such as Solange Knowles who just produced an original score for the New York City Ballet, Janet Rollé who made history as the first Black CEO of the American Ballet Theater, and Misty Copeland’s new after-school ballet program.
Jonathan Batista is our newest ballet story, and he started his training at UNICOM social project in Rio’s City of God Slums. Soon after, he was discovered by former founder and artistic director of Miami City Ballet Edward Villella and former school director at English National Ballet School, Jane Hackett; he was offered a scholarship to the English National Ballet School in London, UK. After graduating from ballet school in 2011, he went on to perform with various ballet companies like the National Ballet of Canada, Miami City Ballet, Boston Ballet, and Cincinnati Ballet. He’s worked in soloist and principal roles alongside many of the most known choreographers, such as Marcelo Gomez, John Neuemeier, Christopher Wheeldom, Liam Scarlett, Jorma Ello, and many more. From 2017 to 2021, he performed with the Oklahoma City Ballet as a principal dancer and is currently residing in Seattle, WA, joining the Pacific Northwest Ballet as a soloist up until now. The Brazil native recently made history as the first Black principal dancer in the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the first time a Black person has held the title in the organization’s 50 year history.
The dancer spoke on his achievement, saying, “Being the first Black dancer in 50 years of Pacific Northwest Ballet, this is a moment for young Black boys, young Black girls that want to dance, that want to see themselves on that stage…It is such an honor to be in this position. It also is a moment where I think, ‘Wow, it took 50 years for [a] Black man, for [a] Black person, to become a principal dancer.’” According to Zippia, 10% of ballet dancers are Black; Batista is usually the only Black dancer on his team and, out of 46 dancers on the Pacific Northwest Ballet, there are only nine Black people.
Under the Oklahoma City Ballet, Batista created two World Premieres, winning Best Choreography of the Year by The National Destined 2 Dance Award. In 2021, he won the Art Culture & Music Award by The TAF Award Foundation for his contributions in representation, activism, work and contributions to the dance community in Oklahoma.
Batista’s feat is due to trailblazers before him, such as Kabby Mitchell, who eventually became a soloist but was the first Black man to join Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1979, and Kiyon Ross Gaines, who was his successor; he joined in 2001 and retired in 2015 as a soloist.
Photo: Angela Sterling/Black Enterprise