In 2015, Misty Copeland became the American Ballet Theater’s first Black principal. Now—together with Calvin Royal III—she’ll be one half of the first Black couple in ABT history to dance lead for the legendary ballet company.
The two will play secondary leads Pirrette and Pierrot in a forthcoming production of “Harlequinade” at California’s Segerstrom Hall. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, this isn’t the first time the pair has worked together. She personally asked Royal to be her prince in a production of “Cinderella” at a Houston charity performance. She also invited him to appear alongside her in a photoshoot for Pirelli tire company’s calendar.
“When two talented dancers can come together, it’s ideal and exciting. But when two of those dancers are Black, it’s explosive,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve always put Calvin at the forefront of my mind to bring with me as a partner whenever I’m doing gigs outside of ABT. It’s because of his talent first and foremost, but also the significance and importance to our communities for two Black dancers to dance together. It’s rare. Like REALLY rare.”
It’s no secret that Black people have long faced challenges throughout ballet history. Copeland is just one of many Black dancers who had to break through barriers in a predominately white industry to become one of this generation’s most renowned ballerinas. Royal, who joined ABT in 2010 and didn’t become a soloist until 2017, knows this struggle all too well.
“I remember being that person looking to ABT and hoping that I could see myself there,” Royal shared. “By us being in that position, we’ll do that for somebody else.”
He added that taking the stage with Copeland is an especially important event in Black ballet history.
“To finally be able to take the stage, two leading dancers in a production with ABT, I see it as such a huge step forward in terms of visibility,” he said.
As the show’s premiere approaches, Copeland says she hopes to continue paving the way for other Black and brown dancers.
“Beyond my personal goals as a ballerina, I want to celebrate, elevate and give opportunities to talented Black and brown dancers to share the stage with me while I have the power and presence that I do,” she stated. “And to build a structure which can continue to exist beyond me.”
“Harlequinade” premieres Friday, Jan. 18. Read more at the Los Angeles Times.