The pushing forward of Misty Copeland to the next level when she has failed to master the skills required at the current level and may never be able to master them would be Social Promotion at its most flagrant. ABT would be conveying that the integrity of the art product that it puts on stage is less important than the personal success of this one overly ambitious, whiny individual. ABT would be conveying to all of its dancers that lying about one's past and one's accomplishments and making false accusations, as Misty Copeland has done over and over again in her book and in interviews, will get one ahead more quickly than hard work. ABT would be conveying that after 14 years with the company, it’s not necessary to meet the technical and artistic requirements of any role in order to get cast in it; you just need to find a hungry agent who will promote your whining and false victimization to the media. For Copeland, who has never been able to do the harder steps in her roles, ABT has just eliminated them to make her look like a success.
Misty Copeland’s skyrocketing media career for the past 18 months has been supported on a platform of lies studded with false assertions of victimization, false assertions against her colleagues, false assertions against the art form that initially embraced her, and the most arrogant refusal to recognize all of those black dancers who came before her and paved the way for her success. She has been on a rampage to win her promotion despite her obvious deficiencies. It has been one of the ugliest examples of a selfish opportunist proclaiming that the end justifies the means, any means, no matter how immoral or unethical or untruthful. And it has been a story too appealing for the mainstream media to resist or even to check for authenticity. Copeland’s story has made her a lot of money and brought her more and more media opportunities that she has exploited in her all-out effort to win a principal title at ABT without the customary qualifications. She still can’t do the steps while everyone around her does them better and better. People know that she is a fraud, but it doesn’t matter to Copeland because being a fraud pays better than being truthful and authentic.
This past fall Misty Copeland won her Artistic Director’s heart by standing on stage and having her tits pummeled by a white guy as choreographed by Liam Scarlett. It seems that Kevin McKenzie may have believed that there is a potential new ballet audience out there that gets off on watching a white male rough up the tits of a black woman in front of thousands of people and have her act like she enjoys it, and McKenzie wanted that audience to come to the ballet. Poor Sarah Lane in the alternate cast preferred not to volunteer to be a victim of sexual violence on stage for the benefit of her Artistic Director’s vision – a reluctance that did not serve her well in the spring castings. Lane, unquestionably a much better dancer than Copeland, failed to win castings in Romeo & Juliet, for which she had already been trained, or in Swan Lake, a ballet in which her performance had been acclaimed internationally. Those roles were given to the one who invited ABT to pummel her tits on stage – Copeland. Because of the lack of these major performing assignments, we probably will not be seeing Sarah Lane promoted to principal despite the fact that she is unquestionably a greater artist than Copeland.
Sarah should sue - not only because ABT placed her in an uncomfortable position where she had to express reluctance to submit to sexual violence on stage for their benefit, but because ABT failed to promote her while promoting the one who would go the limit for the Artistic Director. It would be a good thing to sue ABT (and all of its directors) at this time, because there is a very real need to make ABT disclose its criteria for employing and promoting artists in an era when the public has little confidence that such decisions are being made ethically by this publicly-funded and tax-funded institution. It would be a very good thing to sue ABT (and all of its directors) at this time to force the transparency that it owes to the public that funds it. A GoFundMe effort would probably raise enough money from sympathetic balletomanes to fund the suit and a big party afterward.
The Social Promotion of Misty Copeland at the exclusion of better dancers – which would include most everyone in the company, but in particularly soloists Sarah Lane and Stella Abrera – is based on ABT’s misguided decision to use race as a marketing tool. Copeland delivered a race-based challenge to them for which they have tried to develop a race-based solution that makes them look like a winner. Neither the problem nor the solution bears any authenticity. It is all pure gimmick.
Many African-Americans object to Copeland and ABT using race as a marketing gimmick, and Haglund has heard from several of them. A former professional ballet dancer in a top tier company very recently wrote:
"I have been increasingly irritated by what I’ve seen as the use of race as a marketing tool in ballet. As an African American ballet dancer myself, I find it not only embarrassing and ridiculous, but it also pays a tremendous disservice to the many incredible dancers out there—past or present—who have stood on their talent and artistry alone.”
Those African-American women soloists at ABT who stood on their talent and artistry alone, and paved the way for Misty Copeland have yet to be honored by her. She doesn’t want anyone to think of any black female soloists at ABT except for her. She has trampled over them from the beginning without ever looking over her shoulder. It is selfishness, greediness, and dishonesty sanitized by what may pass as good old aggressive PR work. But it is what it is.
Before ABT rewards Misty Copeland with a social promotion for her own aggressive social promotion, the company should think about the long-term harmful effects - the further alienation of donors, subscribers, followers, and all those who used to think that ABT was a company of some integrity that was committed to producing high end art, not artifice.