Misty Copeland On Reprising Famous ‘Firebird’ Role

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland at the American Ballet Theatre 75th anniversary gala in October 2015.
Rex Shutterstock.

If it wasn’t enough to have the challenge of taking the stage this spring season as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland is preparing to step back into one of her most recognized roles: Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky.

It was the role of a lifetime four years ago when Copeland, a soloist for the American Ballet Theatre, was the first black woman to dance the famous part for a major company.

“It’s such an important role for me because it changed the path of my career,” said Copeland. “I feel this power in approaching it again. It’s exciting to revisit choreography that four years ago was so difficult that there was no way I should have accomplished it, and then this year I feel like this isn’t so bad now that I have four full-length ballets under my belt. It’s exciting to feel the growth and see it.”

Misty Copeland Misty Copeland as the Firebird in the 2012 production of Stravinksy’s ballet. Courtesy of MistyCopeland.com

In addition to dancing “Firebird,” Copeland is tackling roles in “La Fille mal gardée,” “Swan Lake,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Le Corsaire” and “The Golden Cockrel” for the American Ballet Theatre. It’s a lot, admits Copeland, but she’s adjusting and excited for the next season.

How does it feel being principal dancer?

“It’s almost like this reassurance inside me. I think that it’s become easier and easier as time goes on and accept and own a reality that I’m not in a dream. I think that this season will really tell me what it’s like to be a principal dancer, being in a theater for two months straight and performing these roles every night.”

How have things changed since becoming principal dancer?

“It hasn’t been a huge change. My rehearsal schedule hasn’t been as grueling … but the rehearsals I’m in are a little more demanding. It’s been interesting to be able to find the balance now because before I was just going, going, going because that is what my schedule was. It’s taken an adjustment for me physically [to] really listen to my body and know that I need to push it to stay in the best shape I can. When I’m not fine-tuning, I’m doing floor bar or cardio or Pilates and filling the time with things that are going to help me stay strong and grow.”

What do you want for the ballet world to look like in the next decade?

“I want [it] to not be so rare to see ballet on platforms like television and being a part of a brand like Under Armour. I want people to know what it is, and I want people to go and see it and know it’s not an old stuffy art form. I want it to diversify and for people to feel welcome in the Metropolitan Opera House.”