Charlotte Nebres is the first Filipina American and African American dancer to play the lead role of “Marie” — the young heroine in New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker — since its debut in 1954.
The history-making 11-year-old, who was handpicked for the role, is the child of a Filipino father and Trinidadian mother.
Dena Abergel, children’s ballet master at New York City Ballet, acknowledged that the casting decision was a significant milestone. But Charlotte wasn’t cast because of the color of her skin or as part of a diversity initiative, she said.
“When I’m looking for someone who can do Marie, I’m looking for someone primarily who has an ability to act on stage and to convey a story,” said Abergel. “… It has to be someone who can command the stage and who has enough confidence and spontaneity to handle whatever comes her way.”
The cast of New York City Ballet’s production is particularly diverse this season. In addition to Charlotte, the other young leads are also children of color.
Tanner Quirk, who plays Charlotte’s Prince is half-Chinese, according to The New York Times. The children are always double cast, and Sophia Thomopoulos, who plays the other Marie, is half-Korean, half-Greek. Her Prince is Kai Misra-Stone, who is half-South Asian.
Abergel said she didn’t know what backgrounds the dancers were from until The New York Times brought it to her attention. Instead, she said, this year’s cast is a reflection of the “tremendous” effort that the School of American Ballet has made to diversify its student body in recent years.
The young girl reportedly found her own inspiration in Misty Copeland, who became the very first black female principle dancer for the New York City Ballet in 2015.
“When Charlotte was 6, Misty Copeland became the first female African-American principal at American Ballet Theater. That, she remembers,” said Abergel.
“I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful,” Charlotte told The New York Times. “When I saw someone who looked like me onstage, I thought, that’s amazing. She was representing me and all the people like me.”
“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,” said the young ballerina.The young ballerina told the New York Times that she relates to Marie when it comes to experiencing Christmas magic, even everyday when one is happy.
The Nutcracker will continue until January 5, 2020, at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story.