Misty Copeland, who made history as the first Black female principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre and continues to inspire young dancers across the US, will be in Becket this summer to accept the 2023 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award.
The annual award, established in 2007, is supported by an anonymous donor and provides $25,000 to “an artist of exceptional vision and achievement,” according to a press release.
Pamela Tatge, executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow, said Copeland was chosen “for her artistry as a prima ballerina who has a deep connection to the form, extraordinary musicality, and prowess as an artist to convey the emotions and the intention of whatever choreographer she’s been introduced to.”
“[The recipients] join a list of artists who we believe are creative visionaries who are moving our field forward,” Tatge said. “It’s recognition of both their achievement in the past and belief in all that they are creating for the future.”
Recent award recipients include Belgian dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in 2022, tap dancer and choreographer Dormeshia in 2021, and dancer and choreographer Ronald K. Brown in 2020, according to a press release.
Copeland began her dance training at 13 years old, much later than most professional dancers, but started dancing on pointe only three months later. After summer intensives at San Francisco Ballet School and the American Ballet Theatre in New York City, she joined ABT’s Studio Company in September 2000, rising quickly to ABT’s corps de ballet. She was promoted to soloist with the company in 2007, and in June 2015 became the first Black woman to be appointed principal dancer at ABT, according to her website.
She is known for her role as the Firebird in “Firebird,” originally choreographed by Michel Fokine. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky reimagined the work for Copeland in 2012, according to her website. It was one of her first large roles at ABT, and she told NPR “it was a huge step for the African-American community.” In 2014 she published the memoir “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” and a children’s book called “Firebird,” to inspire young dancers to chase their dreams.
In 2021, Copeland created The Misty Copeland Foundation, a nonprofit focused on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the dance realm, according to the foundation’s website. The foundation’s “Be Bold” programoffers children free after-school ballet classes.
“It’s not about creating the next ballet superstar,” Copeland told the Globe. “It’s about giving these children opportunity and access and also educating their communities and their families on what the ballet world is, so that we can create future patrons and audience members and maybe they’ll want to work in different areas of the arts.”
“First and foremost, I’m a dancer. To receive an award in the dance community is everything to me,” Copeland said. “This is like my family. This is what I’ve dedicated the last 25 years of my life to.” She said she will put the prize money back into her foundation and production company because “that, to me, is why I’m doing all of this.”
“We are giving her this award for her activism, for how she has been a changemaker in terms of who is onstage and who is in the audience when it comes to ballet in the United States,” Tatge told the Globe. “She has been an extraordinary champion of people of color in leadership positions in ballet, and she has inspired so many Black and brown girls and girls all over the world to believe and to celebrate this art form.”
Maddie Browning can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.