Misty Copeland‘s name is included on American Ballet Theater‘s current roster of principal dancers during its Metropolitan Opera House season (through July 22). But she is not scheduled for any performances, and has not appeared onstage with ABT since before the Covid pandemic interrupted performances in 2020.
But Copeland was present nearby at Lincoln Center this past Saturday evening in a very different form. The short film Flower, in which she performs a central role and which she co-produced, was screened in Damrosch Park, and she then appeared in person, for a Q&A with CNN’s Sara Sidner. The event was part of a major effort to get the 28-minute film — which had its world premiere last month at the high-profile Tribeca Film Festival, out into the world in a variety of ways.
Directed by Lauren Fineman, with choreography by Alonzo King as well as Rich + Tone, the film is an impressionistic, essentially wordless depiction of a young Oakland woman (Copeland) who lives with her mother (former Dance Theatre of Harlem luminary Christina Johnson) and works as both a teacher of young local ballet students and in a cafe. Her world – and the city of Oakland seem pleasant enough; streets are quiet enough for her to share a lovely cross-genre duet with a local street dancer, Babatuni Johnson, whose fluid spontaneity and slightly mysterious presence enliven the film.
But halfway through, Copeland’s character finds an eviction notice at the door, and the film attempts in its remaining time to turn darker and explore the experience of homeless ness. The initially realistic action rows more internalized, as she envisions herself dancing with her mother in kinder times, and shares a sleekly turbulent duet (presumably King’s choreography) with Babatunji Johnson. There’s also an abrupt intrusion of person-on-the-street type interviews with several (presumably authentic) representatives of Oakland’s extensive un-housed community, expressing their situations with eloquent sincerity.
It’s a lot to pack into 28 minutes, but the film flows along elegantly, supported by Raphael Saadiq’s score, and Copeland provides a quietly riveting presence.
Filmed during the Covid pandemic, Flower is the initial venture of Life in Motion, the production company founded by Copeland and Leyla Fayyaz. The two women are longstanding close friends, having met as members of the ABT Studio Company and joining ABT soon after for a tour to China. While Copeland’s history with ABT – becoming its first Black female principal dancer in 2015 – is well known, Fayyaz soon opted out of professional dance and studied TV and film. She has worked for nearly two decades as a TV writer and producer.
They formed Life in Motion several years ago, suggested by Fayyaz who observed how Copeland was working on varied projects and had developed a high profile outside the immediate ballet world,. Copeland, who gave birth to a son in April 2022, kept busy during the pandemic
She has written several books, including one about the trailblazing Black ballerina Raven Wilkinson (1935 – 2018), who became a mentor and friend to Copeland.
During a recent ‘Conversations on Dance’ podcast episode, Copeland was vague about any plans to return to the stage. She referred to her “insane injury” in 2012 – six tibia stress fractures – that never fully healed, saying she had danced in pain after that.
“I’m really taking a step back and taking my time, in terms of physicality – and having this opportunity to do all these other things that are really working towards the same goal. I’m finding a new fitness journey, and we’ll see when I get back.”
Susan Reiter covers dance for TDF Stages and contributes regularly to the Los Angeles Times, Playbill, Dance Australia and other publications.