SUGAR PLUM FAIRYTALE
The American dancer in Disney’s new Nutcracker tells Will Pavia about her journey from childhood poverty to career riches and meeting Barack Obama and Prince.
‘Iwas born breech,” says Misty Copeland. “I came out, like, folded in half, butt first.” We’re in the back of a black car that is rolling east through Manhattan, and the ballerina is talking about why she was given her name. It really is quite a name, made to be spelled out in lights. “Yeah, it’s weird,” she says. “All of my siblings have, I would say, ordinary names.”
She was the fourth of six children born into a poor, black family in California. Her mother married and divorced three times and moved around a lot, eventually settling in a motel where Copeland and three of her siblings shared a bedroom.
Now Misty is the most famous ballerina in America and the first black woman to be a principal dancer in a leading classical ballet company. She is also “the ballerina” in Disney’s new live-action adaptation of The Nutcracker and today is heading to Queens, where she is to star in the first episode of the 50th season of Sesame Street.
“I came early,” Copeland says of her birth, “so by the time my mom got to the hospital
I was literally hanging out of her. And she just wasn’t ready and she didn’t have a name for me either. And so I guess this horror film, Play Misty for Me, was on in the hospital.”
My rendezvous with Copeland, 36, begins outside a building on Broadway. A new season at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where she has been a principal dancer for three years, is days away and she has to see a man about her knee, a doctor who specialises in dance injuries. Her manager, Gilda Squire, and her assistant are waiting outside under scaffolding; the big black car is idling on the pavement.
Copeland comes out dressed in a dark hooded top and jeans, greeting us all cheerfully and dragging a small suitcase. I offer to put it in the boot for her, meaning to be gallant, but it then occurs to me that she is probably stronger than me. She could probably break my arm.
She puts it in herself and we set forth across town. I ask her about being in the Disney film