11-Year-Old Ballerina Cast as First Black Lead in NYC Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

At just 11 years old, Charlotte Nebres is already breaking down barriers.

The Madison, New Jersey, native made history as the first Black ballerina to land the lead role in “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker,” which opened at the New York City Ballet last week, according to The New York Times.

Nebres will star as young heroine Marie in this year’s rendition of the company’s holiday-themed production, which dates all the way back to 1954. Balanchine, a celebrated ballet master, starred in E.T.A Hoffman’s spooky 1816 fairy tale at age 15 and would put his own twist on the now popular staging performed across America at Christmas.

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IN THE NEWS // The four children who alternate the roles of Marie and the Nutcracker Prince were recently profiled in The New York Times by Gia Kourlas. She sat down with them to discuss the rehearsal process, their lives off-stage, and their roles in the ballet.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ When asked about why ballet is important to her now, in this moment, 11 year-old Charlotte Nebres, pictured here in rehearsal for her role as Marie, said:⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ “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.”⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Photo: Heather Sten @heathersten for The New York Times @nytimes⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ See these very young dancers, who are the heart of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, now on stage through JAN 5. Tap the link in bio for tickets and more information.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ #nutcracker #nycbnutcracker #thenutcracker #nutcrackerballet #holidayseason #georgebalanchinesthenutcracker #ballet #dance #balletdancer #dancelife #balletlife #instaballet #dancers #choreography #balanchine #nycb #nycballet #newyorkcityballet #newyorkcity #linkinbio

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Nebres, whose father is from the Philippines and mother is of Trinidadian descent, joins two alternating casts of more than 125 children and 150 ballet dancers to be featured in the historic showing, set to Peter Tchaikovsky’s original score.

On stage, Nebres said she feels right at home.

“To me, it just feels like when I dance I feel free and I feel empowered,” she told the newspaper. “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.”

As a student at the School of American Ballet, associate school of the New York City Ballet, the tiny girl spends time perfecting her tendus and grand jetés. She’s also had plenty of greats to look up, including Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater.

Nebres gushed about how inspired she was by the pioneering prima ballerina.

“When I saw someone who looked like me onstage, I thought, that’s amazing,” she told the Times, adding how “beautiful” it was to see Copeland perform. “She was representing me and all the people like me.”

Much like Copeland, who appeared in “Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” last year, Nebres is changing the largely white world of ballet. She is joined by an equally diverse cast of young leads; her Prince, Tanner Quirk, is half-Chinese. Sophia Thomopoulos, who plays the alternate Marie, is half-Korean, half-Greek. Lastly, Sophia’s Prince will be played by Kai Misra-Stone, who’s half-South Asian.

Nebres’ lasting  impact on the world of dance isn’t lost on her.

“There might be a little boy or girl in the audience seeing that and saying, ‘Hey, I can do that, too,’” she said.

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