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NYC Ballet’s First Black ‘Nutcracker’ Lead Tells Her Mom the Casting is “A Little Late”

The New York City Ballet may be making history by casting its first Black ballerina in the lead for its annual production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, but the 11-year-old dancer chosen to play the role is a little less than impressed with the ballet’s timing.

Her name is Charlotte Nebres. And when her mom told her she’d be the first Black girl to play the role of Marie in the New York City’s famed production, Nebres quipped, “Wow. That seems a little late.”

We have a new idol.

Nebres is a student at the School of American Ballet. In the NYC Ballet production, she’ll be playing the young girl who dreams of a nutcracker and various toys coming to life.

Nebres spoke with The New York Times about winning the role. “It is [a big deal]. But to me, it’s just how I grew up, so it’s not really different to me.”

Nebres told the Times that watching African-American principal ballerina Misty Copeland of the American Ballet Theater shaped her own trajectory.

“I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful. When I saw someone who looked like me onstage, I thought, that’s amazing,” Nebres said. “She was representing me and all the people like me.”

Twitter lit up with the news of Nebres’s casting:

Nebres’s mom, Danielle Nebres, was also a dancer. She expressed to the Times the amazement she felt upon hearing that her little girl had been chosen to play Marie.

Danielle Nebres said, “With that poker face of hers, [Charlotte] said, ‘Well, I’m Marie.’ And I just thought, ‘Oh my goodness — they really did it.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Danielle also told the Times that when she told her daughter she’d be the first black star of the Nutcracker at the NYC Ballet, Charlotte said drily, “Wow. That seems a little late.”

We have to agree. Fortunately, this year’s Nutcracker cast at the NYC Ballet is very diverse. There’s Tanner Quirk, who is half-Chinese, playing Marie’s prince. Sophia Thomopoulos, who is half Korean and half Greek, will be playing the other Marie. Kai Misra-Stone is of South Asian descent and will be playing Thomopoulos’s prince.

As for Nebres, she’s just thrilled to dance. She explained to the Times: “To me, it just feels like when I dance I feel free and I feel empowered. I feel like I can do anything when I dance. It makes me happy, and I’m going to do what makes me happy. You don’t need to think about anything else.”

She may not be thinking about anything but her dancing, but we’re thrilled that the NYC Ballet is beginning to embrace more diversity in their casting — especially in a show that is attended by so many children every year. Representation — as Nebres points out — truly matters.

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