Copeland Does Degas

Misty More Than Resembles the Little Dancer

Copeland as Degas's Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Degas’ sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is so ingrained in our culture that it is hard to believe it was actually controversial in its day.

Similarly, Misty Copeland, America’s premiere ballerina of today, has had a career with controversy.

In the case of the Degas sculpture, he created a piece that did not conform to the standard of the day. The work was ridiculed as not being beautiful enough. Degas captured the young dancer in a moment of repose as opposed to a perfectly poised and posed posture more “appropriate” for a sculpture.

Copeland has also felt the sting of criticism for her appearance, and not conforming. Earlier in her career she was told she didn’t have the right body type to be in the ballet. Certainly, it was said, she would never leave the Corps–if she made it that far.

Fortunately for the art world, neither of these masters allowed the opinions of others to limit their success.

The Little Dancer is one of Degas’ most famous–and beloved works. Likewise, the entire world recognizes and admires the talents of Copeland.

It sounds like a fun concept to have the Prima Ballerina replicate the Master Sculptor’s work.

Fun–but challenging.

According to Copeland, Ballet dancers want to be in total control.

Copeland says that’s part of the reason she found posing for the images that accompany this story—which were inspired by Edgar Degas’s paintings and sculptures of dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet—a challenge. “It was interesting to be on a shoot and to not have the freedom to just create like I normally do with my body,” she says. “Trying to re-create what Degas did was really difficult. It was amazing just to notice all of the small details but also how he still allows you to feel like there’s movement. That’s what I think is so beautiful and difficult about dance too. You’re trying to strive for this perfection, but you still want people to get that illusion that your line never ends and that you never stop moving.”

Both Copeland and Degas create a new way to look at ballet. A more modern twist to an art filled with timeless tradition.

“I see a great affinity between Degas’s dancers and Misty,” says Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. “She has knocked aside a long-standing music-box stereotype of the ballerina and replaced it with a thoroughly modern, multicultural image of presence and power,” Golden says.

Read more about Degas and Misty Copeland in the original article written by Stephen Mooallem for Harpers Bazaar

Copeland as Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Photographs by Ken Browar & Deborah Ory

Fashion Editor: Michelle Jank