Black Swans

Gittens and Singleton in "Swan Lake." Photo by Gary Calton.

A week from Friday, Birmingham Royal Ballet soloist Céline Gittens will dance Odette/Odile in the company’s production of Swan Lake. Gittens is a gorgeous dancer, lyrical and elegant—she’ll make a perfect swan. She’ll also make history, as the first black dancer to perform the ballerina role in the UK.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about why there are so few black dancers in ballet, with critics arguing both that it is and that it isn’t due to discrimination within the field. (For the record, neither Gitten nor her partner—BRB first soloist Tyrone Singleton, who’s also black—think discrimination is an issue). The role of Odette, with its white tutu and even, occasionally, white body makeup, has been a particular touchstone in the debate.

So next Friday will be a significant moment, for Gittens and for ballet. And judging by this video of Gittens rehearsing Swan Lake with Singleton, it’ll be a beautiful moment, too.

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