A Ballerina’s TaleTribeca Film Festival 2015
Nelson George’s documentary A Ballerina’s Tale gives a behind-the-scenes look at the career of famed dancer Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theatre (ABT). As one of the few African-American females in history to rise to the ranks of soloist in a world-class professional ballet company, much has been said about her dazzling talent, and even more has been said about the diversity she brings to the traditional “ballet blanc” aesthetic of the art. George chooses to focus on the latter through the lens of the former, positioning Copeland as the “great hope” in a lineage of black ballerinas who struggled for recognition. The final product is breathtaking, introspective – and not impartial. The film is well-structured and expertly shot, but the narrative is strictly “Team Misty” all the way.
There’s no denying that Copeland is a preternaturally gifted dancer; the sequences of her dancing are nothing short of exquisite. Raised in California, she started training at the late age of 13 – practically mid-life in terms of a dancer’s viability – and by 18, she had joined ABT’s corps de ballet. Copeland currently holds soloist status with ABT, and if she gets promoted to principal, she would be the first African-American woman in a major company to ever do so. The film presents the fairytale aspect of her meteoric rise at ABT as the direct result of her relentless dedication and punishing hard work in a profession not known for its multiracial representation. Her journey is related through interviews with Copeland herself, her mentors (ballet trailblazer Raven Wilkinson is delightful), her manager and others.
The film does gloss over some equally important issues that are never fully addressed. She admits to going on eating binges early in her career due to pressure about her voluptuous body type, but the words “eating disorder” are never mentioned. Her troubled childhood and contentious relationship with her parents are not referenced. More interestingly, there is virtually no attention paid to the highly probable existence of mutual agendas. Misty Copeland emerged at just the right time in the zeitgeist – ABT had anticipated backlash on the industry’s lack of diversity and took notice of her right away. Timing has as much to do with her success as her undeniable talent. Copeland, for her part, has seized the moment and diversified herself as a multi-hyphenate: dancer, author, product spokesperson, motivational speaker, etc. As her manager notes while they stare at a larger-than-life billboard of Copeland’s marketing campaign for Under Armour in NYC, even if she never becomes a principal ballerina, the public thinks she already is. It’s likely all she’ll need to secure her legacy.
A Ballerina’s Tale does not yet have a confirmed date of release.