By: Dani Kessel
In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to write posts recognizing noteworthy, inspirational girls and women from both the past and present. These folks deserve attention/name recognition any time of the year, but Women’s History Month allows me to spotlight them in a time where more people will listen.
This is the first article of the series. If there are any requests for me to write about specific individuals, let me know in the comments below. I will try my best to get to them all!
Last holiday season, an 11-year-old girl named Charlotte Nebres made history by being cast as the first person of Black descent to play Marie (also known as Clara in other renditions) in the New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.
As with most ballerinas, getting the role was a cherished moment. Marie/Clara is one of the most sought after roles in the ballet world. A difficult feat, she competed against over 180 other dancers to win the role. Charlotte broke through barriers as she emerged victoriously.
As someone with a significant impact, I think everyone should get to know more about Charlotte Nebres.
Why does she do ballet?
Charlotte is just a young Black girl doing something she loves. Her description reveals its deep emotional importance. She says, “To me, it just feels like when I dance I feel free and I feel empowered. I feel like I can do anything when I dance. It makes me happy, and I’m going to do what makes me happy. You don’t need to think about anything else.”⠀
Where did her love of dance come from?
Charlotte’s passion is extremely clear. When asked, she credits her mother (also trained in ballet) and principal dancer Misty Copeland (the American Ballet Theatre’s first Black American prima ballerina) with her love and drive for ballet. Charlotte says she was dancing from the time when she was in her mom’s womb. Then, at 6 years old, she watched Misty Copeland perform. It was then, seeing a prima ballerina who looked like her, that she realized she really could succeed in dance. That was revolutionary.
How did she feel about the weight of her role?
Charlotte was shocked to later find out the deeper significance of her casting.
“Wow. That seems a little late,” she said when her mom told her everything.
So how did she do in the Nutcracker?
According to friends of mine who went to see the ballet, Charlotte thrived in the role. Her grace, delicacy, and theatrical flair shone through the dancing.
Reviewer Wesley Doucette also wrote of the show’s leads, “…[A]n intergenerational cast, a unique and central aspect of Balanchine’s production. These children include Tanner Quirk as Herr Drosselmeier’s nephew, soon to be the nutcracker himself, and Charlotte Nebres as Marie. How these two can conduct themselves with such presence at so young an age is beyond me.”
There is no doubt that Charlotte brought the role of Marie to life.
Hats off to Charlotte Nebres for being a part of such a monumental milestone!
My hope is that this is the first step towards a more inclusive, diverse ballet world. Charlotte Nebres has a great future in the Ballet world. She may be the first Black Marie in the New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker (and that’s truly wonderful), but she shouldn’t be the last. We need much more variance. Ballet is a beautiful art form that would only grow more beautiful as it welcomes different races, abilities, sexualities, and folks from all walks of life.