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Ballerina Misty Copeland spotlights Oakland, social issues in new film

<i>KPIX</i><br/>An audience at the Brava Theater in San Francisco
An audience at the Brava Theater in San Francisco


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    SAN FRANCISCO, California (KPIX) — Acclaimed ballerina Misty Copeland has gone from the stage to the big screen with her new short film. She’s in the limelight this time as actor and producer of Flower, which was shot and set in Oakland.

Copeland plays Rose, a dance teacher who supports her ailing mother.

The two struggle to keep their home. Rose befriends a street dancer named Sterling, played by local talent Babatunji Johnson, who renews her hope for the future of the community.

“We made this film for this community. We thought a lot about taking the idea of a classical ballet and what that would look like in modern times, focused on a community that I think should be highlighted, has issues that should be highlighted but also the beauty and the textures of the community that should be focused on as well,” Copeland told KPIX.

The issues to which Copeland brings critical attention include gentrification, inequity, the housing crisis and homelessness.

“I hope everyone sees something that they can connect to or have a little more empathy for but, in the end, we want to be able to show the power of dance and movement,” she said.

Flower does so without dialogue.

Copeland, who is known as the American Ballet Theatre’s first black principal ballerina, said her own childhood experience came into play.

“I grew up in Los Angeles, California and have experienced houselessness for, I’d say, the majority of my childhood and when I started ballet at the age of 13 my family was living in a motel,” Copeland said. “Community gave me hope and that’s what I hope we captured with this film that there is hope with the community of Oakland, California.”

Copeland also attended the San Francisco Ballet summer intensive program when she first began dancing. They offered her a full scholarship, nurtured her and gave her opportunity.

Several young ballerinas from the San Francisco Ballet School came to the screening at the Brava Theater on Sunday as part of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival.

“She’s number one. A person of color dancing and she’s also such an amazing dancer and I really want to be like her one day,” said 13-year-old Alexa Ibershof.

“It’s a really big inspiration to meet someone as well-known as her,” added 12-year-old Colette Norman.

Copeland offered some advice for aspiring professional ballerinas or young people who may feel alone in their endeavors.

“There’s always someone else who has had a similar experience and I think it’s important to remember that but, also, to look at the people that are right in front of you,” Copeland said. “Whether it’s your peers, your friends, your parents, your teacher. And there is a support system around you.”

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