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Prince targets arts education with $250,000 gift to American Ballet Theatre

February 10, 2011 |  4:30 pm

Prince is moving into arts philanthropy in a big way, with a particular focus on arts programs for the younger generation. Before he performed at New York's Madison Square Garden on Monday, the rock musician was in the arena for the announcement of three major donations, including a $250,000 gift to American Ballet Theatre for its educational programs.

"My understanding is that at the start of the current tour, he mentioned that he wanted to make some gifts in New York City," said Rachel Moore, ABT's executive director, who was present to receive an oversized check for the funds donated in the name of Prince and his backup group, the New Power Generation. Moore said that her contact with Prince's organization made clear that "their interests are in educational programs, and that's what the press conference was about. It was about the power of the arts, and helping children as being critical."

Prince has a particular awareness of ABT through Misty Copeland, an ABT soloist he sought out to perform in his 2009 "Crimson and Clover" music video (watch it above). Copeland has made her first live appearances with the musician during the current tour, performing a number in pointe shoes as her ABT schedule allows. Copeland, who joined ABT in 2000, is the company's only African American soloist.

Prince "Misty knew that we are very focused on doing work to diversify professional ballet, and I think that's something that very much interested Prince in the conversations she had with him," Moore said. Referring to the musician’s organization, she noted that "they want to work with us on exactly where the gift is going to go. It will be used for education, and serving children who are from under-resourced communities, without question."

Moore said she expects the donation to make possible increased scholarships for the company's 6-year-old Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. "Our desire is to have it go directly into the JKO School to help with scholarships for children of color."

Several students were present at Monday's announcement, where Prince also announced substantial donations to the Harlem Children's Zone and the Uptown Dance Academy, both New York-based educational enterprises.

Until recently, Prince’s main connection with ballet was providing the score for the Joffrey Ballet's "Billboards" in 1993. But he has been attending ABT performances, Moore confirmed, and came to see the company's new "Nutcracker" in December at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

RELATED

Prince and pointe shoes: ABT soloist dishes about video

-- Susan Reiter

Photo: Prince. Credit: Associated Press


 
Comments () | Archives (9)

I think this is wonderful of course it is. Whenever we can extend the possibility for children of color becoming professional dancers it's a great thing. The question still remains what are we training them for? The ballet world is still a white one, (and please spare pointing out the exceptions like Ms. Copeland) Who is going to hire these well trained coco colored dancers if they should advance to a professional level? New York City Ballet? Uh no the diversity of the City it represents is nowhere to be seen it might as well be a company in Denmark- ABT? possibly but most of their dancers of color are from Cuba and Kevin Mckenzie has Copeland seemingly embedded on the soloist tier, and primarily relegates her to contemporary soloist roles. Then the question arises well what about Dance Theatre of Harlem? Which is in insult and only proves that the sort of ballet is white washed- DTH was formed because there was no place for African American ballet dancers to dance- not much has changed. And why should Ballet dancers of color have only one choice? Are we are back to segregation? Do we need an affirmative action for the arts? come on. What bothers me it that the Directors are never taken to task about these questions, they let the "others" talk in circles about it and never have to enter the conversation, or skirt the issue leaving it where it started. I say- If you are not willing to open the Stage door for these dancers for whom you are making it possible for them to fall in love with the ballet, do me a favor and don't- it is heart breaking for them to realize that regardless of their talent or proficient technique there is not place for them. Most people wouldn't know how subversive and cruel the ballet world can be when you don't look like the "Ideal" This is REAL BLACK SWAN stuff. From teacher's commenting on the "roundness" of your buttocks to even comments about your hair. They can make a child feel unwanted- as if they are doing them a favor. So I hope that ABT and the JKO school are ready to train these children and make them feel as if they belong, at least until the professional Ballet world tells them otherwise. Please someone Prove me Wrong!

Thank you, Prince!

A month ago, the ABT called me at my home asking for a donation to their company. I said I would give only if Misty Copeland and other dancers of color are able to be given the opportunity to dance as a principal dancer and not a side performer (I'm not to sure of the correct term for this but I think you may get the drift). A year ago I went to a performance of the ABT to see Misty Copeland but her performance was so quick because she wasn't a featured dancer that I was disappointed. I shared this with the representative that called me and she said I had a valid argument and that I needed to voice my opinion more which I am sharing here.

I am willing to spend money at the ballet because I do have an appreciation as a former ballet dancer BUT I would prefer seeing more dancers of color especially African American ballet dancers such as Misty Copeland and Aesha Ash given the opportunity to shine as a principal dancer. I hope that the money that Prince has given will give an opportunity to more dancers of color to dance as classical performers! I'm hopeful!

Theresa,

You seem to be missing the point. The fact is that black and hispanic children tend, overall, not to have as much access in this country to good training as white children. This is the issue that ABT and Prince, as well as others, are seeking to address. Your comment makes it sound as though there is some surplus out there of superbly talented, exquisitely trained, professional level black dancers who simply aren't getting hired because of the color of their skin. That's just not true. The point is that more outreach needs to be done in order to allow non-white dancers to receive top notch training and other resources, and to interest them in the art form. Which would be easier, of course, if they had more existing role models in top level companies, but this is a chicken or egg scenario.

"It is heart breaking for them to realize that regardless of their talent or proficient technique there is not place for them" - if a dancer is truly talented AND has what is deemed the proper physique for ballet, along with access to the resources needed in order to audition for a good company, he or she will get hired. The criteria used to judge a proper physique is equally selective and harsh towards all dancers of all colors. I myself am an example of someone who had superb technique and talent but not the 'ideal' body type, which precluded me from a professional career. It's simply the reality

"Most people wouldn't know how subversive and cruel the ballet world can be when you don't look like the 'Ideal'" --This is true. But it's true for dancers of ANY race. As it stands now, you must have a particular body type ALONG WITH extraordinary technical proficiency and artistry in order to be hired by a top-tier company (with only extremely rare exception on the body type). That's the reality of ballet, good or bad. Just as with modelling or other professions, you have to be something of a genetic freak in order to reach its highest echelons. Having thick ankles, flat feet, or any other number of qualities that aren't race based, can preclude one from a career in ballet. I know both black dancers and white dancers who have been chided by teachers for having swaybacks or round behinds.

Regarding Misty Copeland, I would love to see her promoted to Principal. The media likes to imply that she is relegated to contemporary roles and has been kept a soloist because of being black. More likely, it's because she has a muscular and forceful technique and those are the roles in which she shines the most. There's a long list of other dancers that McKenzie has held back, inexplicably, including Sarah Lane (too short, most people say), Sascha Radetsky, Stella Abrera and a ton of others. I don't agree with many of his decisions, but to assume they are racially based doesn't match up with the evidence.

Improving diversity in ballet is extremely important and I'm so happy to see that Prince is making a donation (in an amount that is chump change for him, no doubt). Hopefully the ballet world will speed up its progress towards accepting a more diverse range of body types.

I am an ex American Ballet Theater dancer Robyn Gardenhire and Im black I find it really hard to hear that why give black dancers the chance to learn and grow in this art. I had a really hard time at ABT but I would not change it for anything I got into one of the best companys in the world and no they did not let me dance as much as I should have and I do think it was because of the color of my skin. But we as a people have done this and we will continue untill it is as normal as seeing a basketball, or football player on the field, we do remember when you did not see it. So relax and push foward new Directors who see the value in beautiful dancer of color. As for ABT I made sure they knew how I was treted and I put together a diversity commity and put together a scholorship for minority student for six years. I hope they trained some great dancer with that. Its so odd I have as of late been talking or on facebook with two ex New York City Ballet dancers who went on to do great work in other companys both black women who because they are black did not get to be soloist in that company and they both trained at SAB. Let us all think about pushing dance forward and one day we will not only be at the ballet but seeing dancers of all colors being beautiful.As for me I am pushing it forward in Los Angeles City Ballet of Los Angeles a scholorship school training dancers of color and a company that looks like LA our Nutcracker is in the 1940's so Maria can be any race. So we do it and we dont close doors we open them that is what I did so Prince if you would like to make one more donation please contact www.cityballetofla.org or anyone els out in the world of dance.

Michelle Wolf, you are poorly informed. There are countless exquisite dancers
of color. Dancing in companies throughout Europe, as well as in South America.
There are a multitude of others who live in the states having auditioned for the
'country clubs' here who were all denied entry. Take a moment and think.
Have you ever spoken to Helgi Tomasson, or Peter Martins, or the other heads
of large ballet companies throughout the world. The mindset is a narrow one,
and believe me I know each one.

To claim that there is a dearth of beauty amongst dancers of color because of poor training r is a sad and pitiful statement. You should get out more.
Moreover, there are remarkable dancers who came from mediocre schools
but who were just instinctively talented.

This nonsense about Misty's 'muscular' technique, is racist code, meaning that
she is not refined enough for leading classical roles. Look at the American's
doing classical roles. They are laughable knock off's drenched in artifice and imitation.

That is the WORST video ever....having said that, It's great that he's taking an interest in arts education, but I thought he was doing that anyway....No?

Portia ,

You completely misunderstood and misrepresented the point I was making. The percentage of children in the U.S. who go into ballet and who are African-American isn't nearly proportional to the percentage of children who are African-American within the general population, and this reflects in the disproportionately low number of black dancers working in companies here. This is something that needs to change. Given that the odds of ANY dancer of any race managing to land a job in a good company are extraordinarily slim (only the best of the best are able to, and there are few jobs, so many wonderful dancers of all skin colors are left out), the odds of an African-American dancer doing so are that much slimmer because there are disproportionately fewer of them to choose from in the first place. Much fewer than there should be. Which is the main issue that ABT and other outreach programs want to resolve.

For every Misty Copeland there may be dozens and dozens of other potentially talented kids who never get discovered as she did, because they don't even get exposed to ballet in the first place. The number of African-American dancers employed at top companies in this country can start to increase if we begin to widen the pool of black ballet students receiving solid training. If this happens we will be much more likely to see more Misty's, Aesha's, Albert Evans's, Craig Halls's, Courtney Lavine's, etc. etc, appearing on the rosters of top companies in the future. Note also that I never claimed to know the thoughts of every artistic director for a major company in this country, nor did I deny the possibility of race-based discrimination on the part of certain individuals. But to suggest that artistic directors rejecting African-American dancers who are as good as or better than their non-black peers purely because of skin color is the principal cause of ballet's lack of diversity is to overlook the most critical underlying factors.

To be clear, my earlier post was not seeking to deny that racism exists in ballet or elsewhere, and that false preconceptions about the suitability of the black dancer's physique don't still persist in some corners. But the more we get African-American children interested in trying ballet and access to training, the more likely it will be that we will have more dancers who prove that these are misconceptions, and that Misty Copeland's talent and physical suitability don't represent some rare exception to a rule. Just as increasing more accessibility to tennis for black children can help prove that Serena and Venus Williams aren't aberrations either.

I must also note that I never in any way implied that Misty lacks classical refinement (and how do you figure that 'contemporary' roles in ballet don't require such refinement?). I was pointing out that, while I personally believe she should be Principal and get a wider range of roles, ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie often makes inscrutable decisions regarding casting and promotion in general. It doesn't just apply to Misty. McKenzie never casts Herman Cornejo as Siegfried in Swan Lake, presumably because he has a bias against very short dancers in the role (if it were ethnically based, we wouldn't see Gomes, Corella, or Carreno in the part, and a number of major critics attribute him not being cast in the role to his height). By calling Cornejo "short" am I being racist? Of course not, no more than I am by calling Copeland's movement style (NOT her actual body, you will note) "muscular" and well suited to contemporary roles (which, again, doesn't mean she's not also suited to Petipa - I never said that). In ballet almost every dancer is relegated, fairly or unfairly, to a "type": the danseur noble, the soubrette, the lyrical or allegro dancer, the romantic or contemporary dancer, etc, and most artistic directors cast largely on that basis. McKenzie is particularly, and frustratingly, prone to this. I long to see Misty in more classical roles, just as I long to see Cornejo as Siegfried and Sarah Lane, another small dancer, as Odette/Odile. But it is wrong to jump to the conclusion that Misty MUST be being held back purely on the basis of her skin color, as this is not something that can be proved or properly supported by the evidence. We need to focus on the concrete cultural and socioeconomic issues contributing to the dearth of black ballet dancers working in this country -- and focus on those areas that we can all be effective in changing. Let's get more minority children exposed to ballet and access to training earlier so that untapped talent can be discovered.

I am completely, completely astonished by this recording. It is a masterpiece of music if there ever was one. Thank you for this read hot Valentine. I will treasure it. God bless you, Prince and HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY. XOX

Michelle Trust me I get it I am a former ballet dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, I trained with Lupe Serrano who now teaches at the JKO school. I know what "not being exposed means" my parents worked to make sure that we all 9 of us were. I integrated Pennsylvania Ballet's Nutcracker Party Scene- Fiona Furstner saw I was cast a the Bookmakers daughter (obviously by mistake) and didn't fit me for the costume. I was heartbroken when I reached my father downstairs I was in tears he went straight to Benjamin Harkarvy who insisted that I do the part. I get it on a whole lot of levels. I chose to dance with DTH because it was such wonderful feeling to see people like me doing what I loved, I felt at home, and wanted, I had grown up in private schools and ballet where I was constantly the other.

What I am talking about is when you encourage a child to fall in love with something let's look ahead and create the space for that dream and talent to come to fruition and have a place to shine. I think it's fabulous that Prince is making the training possible, put training with no place to put it is fruitless. Another thing you don't understand is that one of the reasons there might not be a "surplus" (a little catty as is reads) of Ballet dancers (particularly female" is the fact that when you don't SEE yourself reflected in the world that way you can't begin to imagine yourself as that- you don't even begin to dream it. It's like being a princess, most girls play princess but at a point when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up and it becomes something more plausible. I have to agree with Portia the body typing and muscularity thing is coded. I haven't missed a point you need to catch one and really hear what Robyn is saying- you may think it one way but the reality (and not from the majority side) is quite different.

What Robyn is talking about is moving closer to my point, in not only training dancers but giving them a place to work and to flourish. I wrote an article about this very subject in Dance Magazine for their Race issue last year http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/July-2010/Rant--Rave-And-Now-a-Word-From-the-Darker-Side

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