This April, The Washington Ballet will not only tackle its first ever full-length Swan Lake, but it will cast two African-American dancers, American Ballet Theatre's Misty Copeland and TWB's Brooklyn Mack, in the principal roles of Odette/Odile and Siegfried. The performances run April 8–12 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Artistic director Septime Webre has long had his sights set on challenging TWB with the iconic ballet. It wasn't until this past season that he felt the company, particularly the corps, was ready. “It's important for me to make a strong statement with our first Swan Lake," Webre says.
“This could not have had more perfect timing," says Copeland. Mack—one of TWB's most notable partners since joining the company six years ago—agrees. “To have two African-American dancers as the leads in a major company is so important," he says.
Why has it taken so long to reach this moment? “There are so many inequalities imbedded in society," Mack says, that affect casting decisions. He's glad he can be a role model for young people, who will see a strong black man in a “white tights" ballet.
Copeland, though, isn't dancing her Odette/Odile for the next generation. “This is really for the people in power now," she says, alluding to artistic and executive directors who often turn a blind eye to race.
“Without a doubt, Misty is breaking new ground onstage and off," Webre says, regarding the ballerina's work as a spokesmodel and supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs. “What's great is that she's able to maintain her incredible artistry even while this amazing celebrity has occurred."
“To have these dancers," Webre continues, “willing to go on record and talk about not just the creation of their art and their past roles, but also talk about what it means to them as dancers of color, is educational for students. It also reaches out on a global level."