I've been both interested and rather sometimes apathetic about ballet over the years. When I was younger and took ballet class for exercise (I never thought I could be a dancer, I was much too short and stocky), I loved going to see live ballet performances. Then it tapered off due to real life activities and the fact that it has gotten incredibly expensive to go to the theater these days.
So I'm getting back into the ballet scene a bit. Because tickets are so expensive, I want to maximize the possibility of seeing good performances.
And one name continually pops up for good or for worse...Misty Copeland.
Copeland causes much controversy in ballet circles, in fact it seems she actively pursues such discussion. Whoever her marketing team is, they should be congratulated because without them, Ms Copeland would just be another no name dancer.
Unfortunately Misty Copeland is a very average dancer at this stage. I personally don't see any stage charisma in her except for what she generates in bad publicity.
Take this video of of her in a Balanchine excerpt.
Technically she can do the steps. But hell people, any dancer worth his or her salt can do steps. Where is the musical phrasing? Where is the attention to upper body detail. I don't get the impression of a dancer who is interested in artistic exploration and studies the use of the body to create form in movement. The impression I do get is that Copeland thinks she is Rocky Balboa with each step being a punch to victory. She juts out her jaw and at times her smile turns into a obstinate snarl. There she is folks battling against RACISM (Forget the fact that the story she crafted for herself slights more accomplished black ballerinas who came before her), she is running up those steps of the PA museum of Art! All this number needs is for her to jump in place and pump her arms. Hoorah for Misty.
In regards to the body issue she continually harps on herself. The fact is, big breasts obscure the body line. That is why ballet fashion has continually moved toward thinner and more streamlined body shapes. This is a fact of the art form. I don't see it changing. However that isn't to say it is holding back dancers. I've seen plenty of dancers in NYCB, even the Mariinsky Ballet, with females who are more voluptuous than average. Whereas Mariinsky holds more or less to an ideal, American ballet does encompass more body types. But let us consider another dancer.
Sara Mearns of the NYCB for example. I don't consider her body in the realm of the preferred ballet physique. She is a bit stocky, short waisted, broad in the shoulders and has a short neck. But it is clear she is an artist before an athlete and has found a way to shape her movement to fit the ideal. Notice Mearns exacting attention to upper body epaulement and inclusion of her partner as a her partner not an obstacle in this video of Balanchine's The Nutcracker Pas de Deux.
Now compare with Copeland in the Ratmansky version
It is clear to me that, unlike Mearns, Copeland is just thinking in static images. She hits the correct poses, but the upper body technique to get there is messy. Once the music picks up tempo and the dancing gets more virtuoso, Copeland goes back to being Rocky. And it shows in the partnering. She isn't relating to her partner, she is throwing herself into the steps without considerate preparation to him. At one point it looks as though he is throwing around a sack of laundry.
If anyone is remotely honest with himself or herself, these two videos show clearly why one dancer is a Principal Ballerina and the other is not. It has nothing to do with racism. It has nothing to do with body type. It has EVERYTHING to do with technique and artistry.
Ironically, Copeland has room to level up to Mearn's place in ballet. But that would take work, both in coaching for epaulement and attention to detail in acting. This work would get in the way of her grandstanding publicity tour though and this is why, at 30, she hasn't developed as much as she can. Clearly willing and wanting is getting in the way of DOING.
These are fellow dancers that Copeland insults in her race to the top no matter how.