Whoops and whistles as Misty brings down the house

It wasn’t your everyday ballet audience.

There were whoops, cheers and whistles as Misty Copeland made her entrance as Aurora on the stage at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney.

The house was full.

The Wednesday evening Australian Ballet subscribers weren’t alone as they took their allocated seats.

They were joined by an excited gathering of fans and followers of Copeland, a celebrity with 116K followers on Twitter and 1.5 million followers on Instagram.

The over-the-top dĂ©cor of the Capitol Theatre – sparkling lights in the ceiling, reproduction Greek statues – was a perfect match with Gabriela Tylesova’s designs for the Australian Ballet’s 2015 production of The Sleeping Beauty.

The giant cream pillars, the golden chandeliers, the Limoges-like costumes and the references to the paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Claude Lorrain had a similar effect on the audience as the opening of the Capitol Theatre in 1928.

As a Sydney Morning Herald reporter wrote at the time: “The effect of the new Capitol Theatre on the crowds which entered it on Saturday night was bewildering and a little overwhelming.

“One seemed to have stepped from under the dull skies of everyday life and passed into an enchanted region where the depth of the blue heavens had something magical about it and something heavily exotic, clouds passed lightly over then stars began to twinkle”.

Twinkles are everywhere in the designs of this Sleeping Beauty although Tylesova’s tutus for Aurora are relatively simple in comparison with the frilled, feathered, ruffled and Swarovski sparkling costumes worn by most of the cast.

The elegant tutus designed for Aurora suited Copeland’s small frame and enhanced her interpretation as a modern princess, not aloof, not girlish, but strong.

Although she is fairly short (in these days of taller and taller ballerinas) Copeland dominated the stage.

The freedom and use of her neck and head was enchanting although her port de bras and limited épaulement didn’t always represent the classicism of the late 19th century era of Petipa and Ivanov and the three Tchaikovsky ballets that remain the lynchpin of classical ballet.

In her debut as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty Copeland had to face one of the most torturous moments in any ballet, the Act I Rose Adagio in which the ballerina has to balance unsupported as she dances with four princes.

Only a few dancers (Alina Cojocaru, for example) can hold both their arms in fifth position with aplomb and for more than a few seconds and so it was for Copeland who may have been slightly nervous for this, her first performance as Aurora.

Her solos, however, were impressive and, in Act 3, the wedding scene, Copeland came into her own with the support and confidence of her partner, Kevin Jackson.

Other highlights of the 22 November performance: The partnership of Marcus Morelli and Jade Wood in the Bluebird variation – a couple representing the preferred style of Frederick Ashton dancers, elegant and crisp – and the excellent Opera Australia Orchestra conducted by Philip Ellis.

Copeland’s celebrity status

As the first African American female principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, Copeland has become a role model and a brand ambassador par excellence representing numerous brands in the United States.

She spruiks Modern Muse – an Estee Lauder’s perfume, Dannon yogurt, American Express, COACH, the Seiko Tressia Misty Copeland limited-edition watch and her range for Under Armor athletic wear.

Her guest performances with the Australian Ballet on 22 and 24 November coincided with the launch of Copeland’s collection for Under Armour in Australia.

The trade magazine, Ragtrader, reported this week that Copeland “is in Sydney to launch the new UA Inspired by Misty Copeland collection”.

Odd that the magazine didn’t report that Copeland was in Sydney to dance with the Australian Ballet.

The dancer is also represented by Mattel, the marketer of Barbie dolls.

The Barbie Misty Copeland doll, released in 2016, is dressed in a Firebird ballet costume, similar to the one she wore for Alexei Ratmansky’s production of his ballet.

It’s as if Copeland is a princess character in Disney movies.

Wait a moment. She soon will be.

Next year she will star in the Disney movie, The Nutcracker and the Land of Four Realms, a retelling of E.T.A. Hofmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King that became a ballet in St Petersburg in 1892.

Other stars will be Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and that other ballet actor/celebrity, Sergei Polunin.

Not even Polunin can outdo Copeland for reaching the pinnacle of celebrity with the assistance of New York-based Gilda Squire, her publicist for many years.

Squire has said she’s done “what I set out to do – getting Copeland some good media hits outside of the dance world”.

She certainly has.

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