Photo: Rebecca Miller/Disney Enterprises
In 2015, Misty Copeland made history twice when she became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), and along with Brooklyn Mack, the first Black couple to play the lead roles in a full-length production of “Swan Lake” at the Washington Ballet.
“Beyond my personal goals as a ballerina, I want to celebrate, elevate and give opportunities to talented Black and brown dancers to share the stage with me while I have the power and presence that I do,” Copeland told the Los Angeles Times in an email. “And to build a structure which can continue to exist beyond me.”
With that goal in mind, Copeland is set to break another barrier at the American Ballet Theatre when she and Calvin Royal III make their debuts as Pierrette and Pierrot in “Harlequinade” at Segerstrom Hall on Friday. Taking on the ballet’s secondary leads to the main character, it will mark the first time in the company’s history that an African American man and woman will dance a lead couple’s roles.
Royal, who joined ABT in 2010 and was later promoted to soloist in 2017, said of the feat: “To finally be able to take the stage, two leading dancers in a production with ABT, I see it as such a huge step forward in terms of visibility.”
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For Copeland, she believes “when two talented dancers can come together, it’s ideal and exciting. But when two of those dancers are Black, it’s explosive. At least for me!”
Adding: “I’ve always put Calvin at the forefront of my mind to bring with me as a partner whenever I’m doing gigs outside of ABT. It’s because of his talent first and foremost, but also the significance and importance to our communities for two Black dancers to dance together. It’s rare. Like REALLY rare.”
Royal will also make history as ABT’s first African American to take on the role of Pierrot. Since the clown character usually wears white makeup to represent a mask that hides his sorrowful disposition, the artistic staff are in talks about the traditional costume. Nevertheless, Royal hopes his performance will inspire young people.
“I remember being that person looking to ABT and hoping that I could see myself there,” he said. “By us being in that position, we’ll do that for somebody else.”