Movie review of “A Ballerina’s Tale”: A new documentary about Misty Copeland — the first African-American principal ballerina of American Ballet Theatre — reveals her strength, fire and grace. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“How you dance is who you are,” the great ballerina Suzanne Farrell often said. You almost don’t need a documentary to tell you who Misty Copeland, who recently made history as the first African-American principal ballerina of American Ballet Theatre, is — the dancing, which melds strength, fire and grace with a quiet serenity, says it all.
Nelson George’s documentary portrait of Copeland, “A Ballerina’s Tale,” mostly captures a moment in time; much about Copeland’s personal life (particularly her often-chaotic childhood) barely gets a mention here. We see just a few tantalizing clips of a coltish teenage Copeland dancing, seemingly zapped with electricity, and learn about her arrival at ABT at 18, a mere five years after she’d begun ballet lessons. But most of the movie focuses on the last few years: her milestone 2012 “Firebird,” a serious longstanding injury (stress fractures in her tibia), rehabilitation, her return to the stage and her rising stardom.
It’s easy to watch “A Ballerina’s Tale” and wish for more dancing and other voices, such as family members or dancers and choreographers who have worked with Copeland. But it’s quite moving to hear the words of the older black women who have become her mentors — particularly Raven Wilkinson, a pioneering black dancer with the Ballets Russes decades ago — and to listen as Copeland herself calmly tries to make sense of the remarkable turn her life has taken. Stay for the end credits, which include a tribute to the (sadly few) black ballerinas who came before Copeland; you suspect, watching footage of the little girls who eagerly wait after performances, that many more will follow in her graceful footsteps.
Movie Review ★★★
‘A Ballerina’s Tale,’ a documentary directed by Nelson George. 84 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.