Nebres, Nutcracker, New York City Ballet
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Charlotte Nebres, 11, Becomes First Black Ballerina to Star in ‘The Nutcracker’ in New York City Ballet

When Charlotte Nebres’ mother Danielle Nebres informed her daughter she was going to be the first Black Marie in George Balanchine’s version of “The Nutcracker” with the New York City Ballet, Charlotte’s response was, “Wow. That seems a little late,” The New York Times reports.

Nebres, who is just 11 years old, will be playing Marie, the heroine of the famous ballet. She told the Times she was first inspired by Misty Copeland, who became the first Black principal at the American Ballet Theatre when Nebres was 6. Ballet is known for being a Eurocentric discipline, with dancers of color often facing discrimination for their skin tone and body types.

“I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful,” Nebres told the Times. “When I saw someone who looked like me onstage, I thought, that’s amazing. She was representing me and all the people like me.”

Copeland shared an image of Nebres on Instagram after hearing the news.

View this post on Instagram

11-Year-Old Ballerina Charlotte Nebres Makes History as First Black Lead in NYC Ballet's The Nutcracker @nycballet ・・・ IN THE NEWS // The four children who alternate the roles of Marie and the Nutcracker Prince were recently profiled in The New York Times by Gia Korlas. She sat down with them to discuss the rehearsal process, their lives off-stage, and their roles in the ballet.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ When asked about why ballet is important to her now, in this moment, 11 year-old Charlotte Nebres, pictured here in rehearsal for her role as Marie, said:⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ "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."⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Photo: Heather Sten @heathersten for The New York Times @nytimes⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ See these very young dancers, who are the heart of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker®, now on stage through JAN 5. Tap the link in bio for tickets and more information.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ #nutcracker #nycbnutcracker #thenutcracker #nutcrackerballet #holidayseason #georgebalanchinesthenutcracker #ballet #dance #balletdancer #dancelife #balletlife #instaballet #dancers #choreography #balanchine #nycb #nycballet #newyorkcityballet #newyorkcity #linkinbio

A post shared by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

Nebres — whose mother’s family is from Trinidad and her father’s is from the Philippines — is a student at the School of American Ballet, a feeder school into the New York City Ballet. She is a New Jersey native. She was in last year’s production of “Sleeping Beauty.” But, after this year’s audition, Nebres emerged as a lead.

“With that poker face of hers, she said, ‘Well, I’m Marie,'” Danielle Nebres told the Times. “And I just thought, oh my goodness. They really did it. I couldn’t believe it.”

The cast of the New York City Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” is more diverse than ever. Many of the other cast members also are children of color. The children are always double cast. According to the Times, Tanner Quirk, who plays Nebres’ Prince is half-Chinese, and Sophia Thomopoulos, who plays the other Marie, is half-Korean, half-Greek. Thomopoulos’ Prince is Kai Misra-Stone, who is half-South Asian.

The School of American Ballet has been trying to diversify its student body over the past few years with more outreach and recruiting throughout different parts of the country and of New York City. Now, about half of the students at the school are not white, meaning more dancers of color are attending auditions and landing roles.

“To me, it just feels like when I dance I feel free and I feel empowered,” Nebres told the Times. “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.”

The New York City Ballet will be putting on “The Nutcracker” until Jan. 5.

Related Story: President Obama, Misty Copeland Discuss Body Image and Race

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