Misty Copeland has performed countless roles both on and off the stage. As a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre — the first African-American woman to ever hold the title in the prestigious company’s 75-year history — she has transformed into Odette and Odile in Swan Lake, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and countless other characters. Nearly four years after debuting as Clara in ABT’s production of The Nutcracker, she helped translate the iconic ballet to the big screen in Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. When she’s not en pointe, Copeland serves as a face for both Under Armour and Estée Lauder, and she has even earned the title of New York Times bestselling author for her memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. Now, Copeland is adding Pirelli calendar girl to her already impressive resume.
Alongside women like Gigi Hadid, Julia Garner, and Laetitia Casta, Copeland will star in the 46th edition of the legendary calendar that was once known for nude images of supermodels, actresses, and athletes. “Dreaming” is the theme for 2019, which is apropos given that the sultry-but-still-clothed photos of the strong and sculpted ballerina are pretty much guaranteed to inspire anyone to get moving in the New Year. Photographer Albert Watson cast Copeland as a dancer who yearns for the spotlight in Paris but moonlights as a stripper in Miami in order to make ends meet. “Trying to be successful is her driving force,” explains Watson. “Copeland’s character earns her living by dancing in a club, but at the same time, she has also put up a little stage in her garden where she practices dancing in order to become a star, sometimes with her boyfriend, played by Calvin Royal III.”
It’s a storyline Copeland hasn’t necessarily experienced firsthand, but it’s one she can definitely identify with as a ballet prodigy who once shared a motel room floor with her five siblings before skyrocketing to superstardom. “No matter what you’ve experienced, it’s a beautiful story that I think anyone can relate to,” she tells Allure. “It’s always nice to be able to dive into a character, regardless if it’s a real person or a fantasy princess.”
As adaptable as Copeland is when getting into character, however, it’s who she is at her core and what she exemplifies that defines success for the multifaceted ballerina. “My position and where I’m at — it’s not about me. It’s about what I represent,” says Copeland. “That space should be for all of us. It’s not just for me to exist in and get these experiences. I try to bring my black and brown colleagues and mentees with me everywhere that I go.”
Here, Copeland weighs in on why she picked Royal to be her Pirelli prince, what she learned from the late, legendary Prince, and how playing a Disney princess is changing perceptions one movie ticket at a time.
The Pirelli Calendar was once renowned for images of nude or nearly-nude women. The past few years has seen a significant shift. How does this new approach reflect how women’s roles have changed in society?
“Especially as women, we are definitely in a different place in terms of having a voice and having power. I think it’s amazing that we can go in a different direction with such an iconic calendar like Pirelli and allow it to grow within what’s happening in the world today. To be able to use that platform to tell a story — an artistic story from the eye and mind of the photographer — it’s such a new and beautiful interpretation of where Pirelli is going. It’s not just a model or a body being photographed; it’s about allowing different people to shine in their own ways. For me, telling a story through dance is what I do. For Albert to create this character that I’m portraying, it just made sense. It was a very organic and natural collaboration.”