Charlotte Nebres is the First African American Lead in New York City Ballet's 'The Nutcracker'

by Bridget Conrad | 12/11/2019 3:58 PM

Photo Credit: Danielle Nebres (@dnebres on Instagram)

Charlotte Nebres was just 6-years-old when Misty Copeland became the first female African American principal at the American Ballet Theater, but she still remembers being extremely inspired by Copeland for representing people like her in the ballet world. Little did Nebres know that just five short years later she would be part of another significant ballet milestone. This year, at 11-years-old, Nebres, a student at the School of American Ballet (S.A.B.), was cast as the first African American lead in New York City Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker,’ which also includes one of the most diverse casts in the history of this NYC Ballet production.

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Since her casting, Nebres has been the topic of many news stories, but it was the New York Times who spoke to her first to find out how she felt about dancing the lead role of 'Marie' among such a diverse group of dancers. “It’s pretty amazing to be not only representing S.A.B., but also representing all of our cultures. There might be a little boy or girl in the audience saying, ‘Hey, I can do that too,' said Nebres to the New York Times. In addition to Nebres, this year's New York City Ballet production includes a cast of other young leads including Tanner Quirk, Nebres's prince in the ballet who is half-Chinese; Sophia Thomopoulos, the ballet’s second casting of 'Marie' who’s half-Korean and half-Greek; and Kai Misra-Stone, Thomopoulos's prince, who is half-South Asian.


A native of Madison, New Jersey, Nebres is one of three children whose mother is from Trinidad and father comes from the Philippines. Her mother, Danielle, was also a dancer growing up and describes her daughter as quiet but a true artist.

It's no surprise that Nebres draws a lot of her dance inspiration from the incomparable Misty Copeland. From the first moment she saw Copeland on stage, it showed her that hard work could really lead her to living out her dream of one day becoming a professional dancer. “I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and beautiful. When I saw someone who looked like me on stage, I thought, ‘That’s amazing!’ She was representing me and all people like me,” Nebres told the New York Times.

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Photo Credit: Danielle Nebres (@dnebres on Instagram)

Dena Abergel, children’s ballet master at the New York City Ballet, agreed that casting Nebres was a significant milestone, but stated that she was cast based on her talent, not because of her skin color or as part of a diversity initiative. Abergel knew Nebres well as one of her students and recognized that the stage makes Nebres come alive! Previously, Nebres was cast in last year’s production of ‘The Nutcracker’ and a production of 'Sleeping Beauty.'

One of the most interesting facts of Nebres’s barrier-breaking achievement though is just how long ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet has been in existence. The first production of this ballet actually dates back to February 2, 1954 when George Balanchine put his own spin on E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 dark fairy tale after dancing in Marius Petipa’s adaptation of it in 1919 when he was 15-years-old.

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The 2019 New York City Ballet’s production of ‘The Nutcracker’ features the ballet’s entire roster of more than 150 dancers and musicians, as well as more than 125 children, in two alternating casts, from the School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet. The show runs through January 5 at Lincoln Center in New York City. Visit NYCBallet.com for tickets.


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