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Misty Copeland, Justin Peck curate ‘Ballet Across America’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Ballet Across America' at Kennedy Center

Jason Fraley | November 30, -0001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Two ballet titans have scoured the country, from Nashville to New York to Miami, finding you the best ballet to watch this week here in D.C.

Misty Copeland and Justin Peck will curate “Ballet Across America” from Thursday through Sunday at the Kennedy Center Opera House, off the heels of a versatile opening ceremony on Monday night.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to see different programs and a true representation of American dance,” Copeland told WTOP. “The diversity you see in terms of the types of movement, the music choices for each piece, the stories that are being told, just to show how incredibly diverse American dance is.”

“We have a wonderful, diverse program in store,” Peck added. “There’s a great level of talent on stage and a wide array of companies from all over the country together in one place. That’s exciting itself.”

Copeland will curate Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a focus on diversity, including the all-African-American dance company The Black Iris Project performing “Madiba” by Jeremy McQueen.

“The first I thought of was Jeremy McQueen,” Copeland said. “To give a company of black dancers an opportunity to be seen in true classical dance and not think, ‘Oh, they have to do more contemporary or modern.’ In telling the story of Nelson Mandela, I thought this was an amazing platform to use.”

Copeland will also present Nashville Ballet’s “Concerto” by artistic director Paul Vasterling, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s “Star Dust” by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson.

“They’re doing such a variety and range,” Copeland said. “There’s one dancer with The Nashville Ballet, Kayla Rowser; she’s someone I noticed immediately, maybe five or six years ago. She’s in Nashville doing these classical leading roles for the first time as an African-American woman, the only one in the company, so I felt like this is a great opportunity to bring that company — and her — here.”

After that, Peck will curate Saturday and Sunday, following the theme of innovation. His program kicks off with L.A. Dance Project’s “Hearts and Arrows” by artistic director Benjamin Millepied.

“It’s a company that I’ve worked with a couple times and they’re just a phenomenal group of dancers who have a strong ballet basis, but move into other territory with the repertoire that they perform.”

From there, Joffrey Ballet presents “Fool’s Paradise” by Christopher Wheeldon and Ashley Wheater.

“I saw [‘Fool’s Paradise’] actually at the premiere in New York at New York City Center,” Peck said. “It must have been 10 years ago and it’s still [in my brain]. It just left a very good impression. They’re a wonderful company, really great energy, hard workers and just great camaraderie among the group.”

After that, Miami City Ballet’s Patricia Delgado and Jovani Furlan will perform “Lord Duet” from “Year of the Rabbit,” followed by Kyle Abraham’s “The Gettin,'” performed by Abraham.In.Motion.

“[‘Lord Duet’] is a pas de deux I choreographed from ‘Year of the Rabbit,’ which was one of the first ballets I created for New York City Ballet,” Peck said. “[‘The Gettin’] is a great piece I saw in New York a few years ago. [Abraham] has an incredible voice and [is] a very interesting choreographer. We’ve been watching each other’s work for a while, so I really wanted to include him and his company.”

As resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, Peck has long admired the Kennedy Center.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Kennedy Center for a long time,” Peck said. “We’ve been coming here with New York City Ballet for several years, so when they approached me about this, I was super excited. … We’re coming back down in June, bringing two programs. … One is a piece called ‘Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes.’ The other is a new ballet … I’m collaborating on with composer Sufjan Stevens.”

Copeland has her own history here, saluting Patricia McBride at the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors.

“It was absolutely incredible, as a dancer who was not trained in the Balanchine technique, to go out there and perform Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux was just such a complete honor,” Copeland said. “I have so many memories here. I’ve been coming to the Kennedy Center since I was 19 years old. I’m 34 now. We used to come here to do ‘The Nutcracker’ every season, and to be able to do my very first ‘Swan Lake’ in America here with The Washington Ballet [in 2015], that is something I’ll never forget.”

While she began dancing at a young age, she says her path into classical ballet was rather “unusual.”

“I didn’t grow up hearing classical music [and] didn’t see classical ballet until I was 15,” she said. “Once I stepped into this world, I saw the beauty that most Americans don’t usually get to see. … It’s not something that’s accessible to a lot of communities here in America. I wanted to, with the platform I have, be able to put ballet in spaces that are really relatable and that can reach the American people.”

Now, her rising fame has earned a unique celebrity status that has transcended the ballet world.

“To have sponsorships and endorsement deals with Under Armour, that’s reaching a really broad range of people,” Copeland said. “That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. … I’m fortunate to be in this position and it’s absolutely not a burden. … [‘Ballet Across America’] was a really exciting opportunity to be able to give companies that haven’t been given a platform, the Kennedy Center as a platform.”

Click here for details. Watch our full video chat with Misty Copeland and Justin Peck at the top of this page.


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