Arts and Entertainment

New York’s Ballet ‘Nutcracker’ has First Black Lead In 65 Year History

The New York City Ballet has cast a Black performer as Marie for the first time in its production of The Nutcracker. For many, the classic holiday ballet has been the quintessential ballet introduction experience.

An 11-year-old student named Charlotte Nebres is attending the School of American Ballet, and was cast as the lead in choreographer George Balanchine’s rendition of The Nutcracker. Marie is the young protagonist whose enchanted nutcracker doll transports her to a fantastical world made of sweets. (She’s named Clara in alternate versions.)

The lead children’s roles in the ballet, Marie and her Prince, are typically double cast. In addition to Nebres, whose family is from Trinidad and the Philippines, Tanner Quirk (her Prince) is half-Chinese, Sophia Thomopoulous (the other Marie) is Korean and Greek, and Kai Misra-Stone (Sophia’s Prince) is of South Asian heritage. This year’s casting marks the most diverse cast in the play’s history in New York.

When Danielle Nebres told her daughter she’d be making history this holiday season — as the first Black dancer to play Marie since the ballet premiered in 1954 — Charlotte’s response was, “Wow. That seems a little late!”

Charlotte’s response may have seemed a bit precocious – but yet accurately astute.

In recent years, the School of American Ballet institution has worked to diversify its companies – which is now finally seeing the efforts of their work.

The New York Times highlighted in 2015, “It takes 10 years to make a dancer,” so efforts had to begin with children. The change will come in increments, but programs to spot and recruit young talent have begun to make a difference: minority enrollment at the School of American Ballet and another prestigious training program, Ballet Theater’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, has increased. “It’s gone Technicolor fast,” Silas Farley, a 21-year-old biracial company member of City Ballet, told the Times.

Charlotte Nebres told the Times last week that as a young girl, she was inspired by Misty Copeland, who became the first female African-American principal dancer at American Ballet Theater in 2015.

“I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful. When I saw someone who looked like me on stage, I thought, that’s amazing. She was representing me and all the people like me,” Nebres recalled when she was only six-years-old.

“It’s pretty amazing to be not only representing the School of American Ballet, but also representing all of our cultures,” Charlotte added, of her star turn in this year’s Nutcracker.

“There might be a little boy or girl in the audience seeing that and saying, ‘Hey, I can do that, too.’

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