Documentarians could not possibly wish for better luck than that which befell on Nelson George when he was recently finishing up his profile on the ballerina Misty Copeland and it was announced that she was to become the first African-American soloist with the prestigious American Ballet Theater in over two decades. It’s a perfect ending to a fairy tale story and is one of the highlights of George’s otherwise rather patchy movie.
The opening scenes show some grainy home videos of a teenage Copeland dancing with her local ballet troupe in California and you can see already that this skinny young girl, who didn’t even take up ballet until she was 13 years old, is remarkably gifted. By the time she is 15 years she is already local star and then from there she transitions to New York where she becomes the only African/American in ABT’s company of some 80 dancers. George’s emphasis here, as earlier, is very much of the cultural significance of Copeland’s breakthrough and sadly we learn very little about the young girl herself or anything of her family background or roots at all.
Copeland is not only an exceptional talent in pointe shoes but she is also a stunning beautifully and simply lights up the screen whenever we see her performing at the Metropolitan Opera House, or in a dress rehearsal when she is learning a new part. There is a rather lengthy section when she discovers a leg injury after dancing Firebird that is hinted maybe the end of her career but after successful surgery and rest she recovers fully in time to land her first leading role. After that she becomes the cultural face of the ‘Under Armour’ label and when the video of their advert goes viral, there is even more talk of Copeland’s position of being one of the leading ballet dancers of her generation attracting much more diversified audience to the somewhat privileged airs that still surrounds the whole ballet culture.
Nelson’s film beautifully shows us an extraordinary ballerina …. watching her star as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake is a sheer joy ….but it’s just a pity he didn’t let us discover the woman too.