Misty Copeland is in the middle of a collaboration with pop culture that is making history and captivating hearts. Two new showcases give us remarkable glimpses into the appeal of the 33-year-old star. The first African-American woman to hold the title of principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, she is featured in the current issue of Harper’s Bazaar re-creating the famous Edgar Degas paintings and sculptures of dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet. The photographs herald an upcoming exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
The images are visually breathtaking and also stunning in the accuracy of their portrayal. You see not only a beautiful feature combining art and fashion but also the perfect dancer to represent exactly what Degas intended to reveal. Degas’s art depicts an unsentimental world of ballet where young girls practice, train and labor. It is a depiction, as Harper’s Bazaar says, of “a kind of beauty that existed behind all the beauty of the performance and in the struggle of his subjects to become something.”
Copeland’s celebrity has been earned through incredibly hard work. She calls herself the unlikely ballerina in the subtitle of her 2014 memoir, Life in Motion, yet Harper’s Bazaar says she headed toward becoming the quintessential ballerina of her time.
If you are not versed in Copeland’s determined effort to achieve her rank in ballet, see the documentary A Ballerina’s Tale, a documentary that aired on PBS Monday after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. The film details her struggles beyond career-changing injuries and constant scrutiny. The role of African-American women has been severely restricted in the ballet world where decision makers concurred that black bodies were “unsuited to the lines of classical technique.” No surprise that she struggled with depression, binge-eating and isolation when she moved at 17 to New York as a junior dancer with American Ballet Theatre.
For more on this revealing film, see Leah Donnella’s fine article for NPR here. You can learn more about where to view and buy the documentary at A Ballerina’s Tale website, and you can also buy the film at Shop PBS. The Museum of Modern Art is exhibiting Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty March 26–July 24, 2016.