May 6, 2020; Chicago Tribune

The lives of dancers are hardly easy, and right now, as companies are considering staying in shutdown mode for anywhere from 18 to 24 months, those who have been released from their contracts and obligations may be looking at the end of their careers.

“Once you’re let go of a company, it’s really difficult to find work again,” says Misty Copeland. “So, I started reaching out to my friends.”

Copeland is a primary dancer at the American Ballet. She’s also, with colleague Joseph Phillips, the organizer of “Swans for Relief,” which is raising $500,000 for relief for dancers around the world who have lost their jobs.

Copeland is the first of the 32 dancers featured in in this extraordinary video, all dancing solo the “Dying Swan.” The dancers come from companies in China, Russia, Europe, Cuba, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. The music—“Le Cygne (The Swan)”—is performed by cellist Wade Davis.

“It really felt like an opportunity to bring the dance world together and to really bring our forces together,” Copeland says. “And I felt like we could have more impact that way.”

Copeland was shocked by the level of enthusiasm she received. “It was just incredible,” she says. “Everyone I was reaching out to was like: ‘Yes! I’m in!’”

But she also sees it as a sign of of a turning point in terms of the public’s perception of the ballet. (Both she and Davis are Black, and the dancers on the video are a diverse group.)

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. 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.

Speaking of making the appeal, Copeland notes “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.”

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… just stepping into a theater, that may be a bit scary for people, you know, for some time to come.

—Ruth McCambridge