A Ballerina’s Tale is a “behind the curtain” look at world famous American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland; Copeland is only the fourth African American to hold such a role in the company’s history.
Director Nelson George chronicles Copeland’s prodigious rise from her early days in California, her move to New York City in her teens and ultimately how she challenged people’s notions of what a “traditional” ballerina should look like. From here, the accounting of her life takes us up to the present day, with Copeland’s ascension as professional, including many of her triumphs (Firebird, Swan Lake) and setbacks (career threatening injuries). For me, the real treat of A Ballerina’s Tale, is how her career milestones are accented by the presence of her mentors, many of whom were trailblazing dancers in their own right; in fact, several make appearances in the film.
Sure, there are things I would have loved to see (a little more about her family life and background and the impact it had on her careers), but I will let this pass, given the documentary’s subject and importance. I am allowing myself, just for a moment, to reflect on what watching a film like this can mean for a young woman who has dreams, but feels that they will come to nothing (“so why bother?”). Fortunately, we get a brief hint of this in a scene where Misty meets a few of her younger fans. Moments like these resonate with me. In fact, it made me recall my own childhood days as a ballet/tap dancer. While I did not have great dancing ambitions, save for making it into pointe toes (that did not happen), I imagine if would have felt any different if the “rock star” of ballet during my time was someone I could relate to culturally.
And as we enter an age where appreciation for the various classical art forms is waning, Copeland stands heads above all as a beacon and ambassador that can (and hopefully will) inspire a new generation of dancers. This film is a good advertisement of that ability to transcend.