A ballerina in Australia floats across the dining room floor in a hijab. Another leaps in the air on a rooftop in the Philippines, while still another showcases her intricate footwork in her backyard in the United States.
Wearing tutus or tank tops, bowing to kitchen stoves or trees blowing in the wind, 32 dancers from 14 countries strapped on their toe shoes to perform a dance for a virtual audience to benefit the struggling dance community.
“It really felt like an opportunity to bring the dance world together and to really bring our forces together. And I felt like we could have more impact that way,” said Misty Copeland, who is the first dancer featured in the video and came up with the initiative with her former colleague, Joseph Phillips.
“ Swans for Relief ” is designed to raise funds for dancers all over the world who have lost their jobs after ballet performances, like most public events, were shut down due to social distancing requirements to stem the spread of COVID-19.
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“Once you’re let go of a company, it’s really difficult to find work again within that company or another company. So… I started reaching out to my friends," she told The Associated Press in a Zoom interview Tuesday from her New York City home. “And it was just incredible that everyone I was reaching out to, I was just shocked that it was like: ‘Yes! I’m in!’”
Copeland partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), with seed funding provided by K Period Media, to launch the program. A $500,000 goal has been set to help ballet dancers maintain their living expenses, since so many ballet companies and venues are closed.
The 32 ballerinas in the compilation video represent companies from all over the globe, including China, Russia, Europe, Cuba, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. The video, released Wednesday, shows each dancer at home performing the iconic steps from “Dying Swan,” set to "Le Cygne (The Swan),” performed by cellist Wade Davis.
Having a diverse group for the video was a top priority for Copeland, a trailblazer who is the first black female principal dancer at her company, American Ballet Theatre.
“I think that’s something that I’ve been fighting for my entire career, is to truly show the representation of what the world looks like within the ballet community," she said. “You’ll see the diversity within this film. But it was also important for me to not just go for the biggest ballet stars, but to look within these companies and see talent, see up-and-coming talent and see diversity.”
For Copeland, the video also represents an opportunity for the ballet world to rethink how it interacts with fans.
“We’ve needed this reset, to kind of step back and reassess how we do things, especially for an art form that doesn’t really rely on media as much,” Copeland said. “It’s about time that we learn how to exist in this virtual world for the ballet community. So I do think there’s some positives in there and maybe just figuring out, you know, new ways of bringing theater to people so that it reaches more people."
She added: "There are more ways than just stepping into a theater, that may be a bit scary for people, you know, for some time to come.”
This story has been corrected to show that Copeland was ABT's first black female principal dancer, not first black principal dancer.