We're loving this new modern take on the classic storybook version of the “Nutcracker.” Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms incorporates elements of the traditional “Nutcracker” ballet, as well, and features mega-dancers Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin’s as the Ballerina Princess and Nutcracker Prince.
As a former dancer, I've followed Misty Copeland's career since she was 15. To say I was elated to have a chance to talk to her about how profound her involvement is in a Hollywood production that encompasses something so large-scale for ballet is an understatement. Misty Copeland chatted with us about what it means to be able to bring ballet to the masses in a staging of a story such as Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms. I was choked up just being in the same room with Copeland, let alone talking to her. She is so inspiring. The work she does to inspire girls and women is astounding.
Copeland told us during our interview with her that you couldn’t have the Nutcracker without dancing and the music. Liam Scarlett, the resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, was who Copeland chose to choreograph the film's dance sequences, although Copeland mentioned she had some involvement in that realm, as well.
This is the first time Copeland and Polunin have paired together. The 18 other dancers they are joined with on-screen come from a variety of countries and schools. For ballet buffs like me, Scarlett made his Nutcracker debut at the age of 11 as one of Fritz’ comrades; Copeland performed Clara at the age of 13, only 9 months into her ballet training after that first infamous class on a basketball court; impressive, to say the least.
As a mom of dancers, I can appreciate the importance of introducing arts to kids. For young kids who dance or are dance curious, watching Copeland and Polunin is nothing short of exquisite. Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms is the perfect medium for introducing ballet to the masses. It presents an opportunity for everyone to see how beautiful and approachable dance truly can be—and Misty Copeland could not have been a more perfect choice to be the ballerina to share that message with all across the big screen. It was an organic fit.
Exclusive Interview with Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland's message to young girls
When Copeland has the opportunity to be a part of pop culture, she ensures it's done right. She has her iconic Firebird Misty Copeland Barbie doll. She was ecstatic to have a Barbie made of herself—but only wanted it done if it was done right.
“I made it very clear that I wanted it to be a true representation of me and what I stand for,” Copeland said. “Just don’t take Barbie’s body and paint her brown. I want her to have boobs. I want her to have thigh muscles and calves. And I want her nose to be wider, the lips to be full.”
“They kept coming back to me, and I was like, ‘The boobs aren’t big enough.' And their final, they’re like, ‘OK, here it is.' I was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re still not big enough.' So then we padded the bra for the Firebird Barbie.
They already had the mold when they did the one for the Ballerina Princess in the Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
“It’s amazing to have a brown Barbie that somebody can see themselves tied in,” Copeland said.
Copeland has been known for her work with raising the bar for female empowerment and representation for years. From her Égal dance clothing line to making sure her Barbie doll looks like her and not simply a Barbie to giving back to the community, Copeland wasn't going to let a movie featuring ballet miss the mark when it came to performing arts and representation.
“I think that this film couldn’t be a more amazing platform for ballet to be introduced to the masses, to those people that maybe don’t feel welcome to step through the doors of the Metropolitan Opera House,” Copeland said.
“Everyone goes to the movies. It's a place you can dream and fantasize and so forth. For the cast, being as diverse as it is, is amazing. For this next generation to see a brown Ballerina in this Nutcracker film that will live on, and, hopefully, sooner than maybe 30 years, that you'll be able to say like, ‘Oh, that's what a Ballerina looks like.' But it's not like that's a black Ballerina, it's so rare. And that, to me, is just so incredible and empowering, and I think that's something that Disney movies have done for me like growing up—to see representation and possibilities and limitless opportunities for themselves.”
That's what she hopes girls and kids will take away from the film.
If you don't know Misty Copeland's story of her infamous first ballet class on a San Pedro, California, basketball court, you'd be fascinated to learn a few things about her dance background. It's one of the things that I find so refreshing about her. She didn't start dance classes as a little kid because her parents sent her to some elite school or spent loads of money on extracurricular activities. In fact, her story is about the exact opposite of that. And despite the circumstances, she's one of the most renowned ballerinas and the first female African American principal with the ABT in its 75-year history. Her first dance class was at the age of 13 on a basketball court at the Boys and Girls club. She danced in a pair of baggy basketball shorts and socks. Most of the other kids, despite still being underprivileged, had dancewear on. It's one of the reasons she started her Égal dance clothing line, so women of all shapes and sizes could feel confident in their dance attire.
“I don't want to say hated it, but it was not something I thought I was gonna do,” Copeland said. “It just doesn't feel right. ”
Dance didn't click for her until she was taken on scholarship at the Valley School.
“I put on the pink tights, and I put on the leotard, and I could see myself in front of the mirror,” Copeland said. “I felt beautiful for the first time in my life. I felt right. I felt like everything that—who knows if it was the reality—but in my mind, being a black young girl, being super skinny, and long legs and these massive feet and big hands and little head, of which everything was just wrong in the real world. And I stepped into the studio and it was like, ‘Oh, everything is exactly right.' These are the proportions. It gave me such power and confidence I've never experienced before.”
“It's hard for young people to accept or ask for support or guidance,” Copeland said. “That's just kind of been my saving grace with everything. “As young people, we don't have all the tools to push through and get going through whatever it is. I think it's important to just have belief in yourself, you don't have to look like the person next to you. What you see on Instagram is not necessarily beauty just because that's what you pushed in your face. I think being an individual is so much more beautiful, and being unique and so I feel like I just try and tell young people to own that and be confident in who you are.”
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is in now playing in theatres.