Michaela DePrince: A Budding Ballet Star

Photo of Culture Trip
4 January 2017

There is considerable publicity about the star of the documentary First Position, 17-year-old Michaela DePrince. DePrince is a dancer from Sierra Leone who has made her 2012 debut as Gulnara in Le Corsaire (South Africa). In spite of the praise bestowed upon this young dancer, Esmeralda Carian points out that ballet should not be limited to strong technique.

First Position film still/First Position Films/balletdocumentary.com

DePrince’s path so far has been remarkable. Born in 1995 during the civil war in Sierra Leone, she lost both parents and siblings at a very early age. Following this tragedy she was sent to an orphanage where she was ill treated and rejected because she suffered from a skin condition called vitiligo. War reached her there, too, and she witnessed the harrowing murder of a pregnant teacher, the only person to have shown her some kindness. One day Michaela found the photograph of a smiling ballet dancer in a discarded magazine and it became the dream that kept her going. Later, when she was adopted and brought to the United States, the dream turned into reality and ballet became her salvation from the nightmare of her early years.

This is a tragic way to start one’s life and there is no denying the courage and strength of character of this young girl, her renewed hope in life and her capacity to look forward. But it must not cloud our judgement or influence our perception as to her qualities as a dancer. We see a girl with a strong technique, if slightly untidy in her footwork. We admire the ease and control of her formidable extensions, her excellent balance on pointe. Yet circus artists and gymnasts perform similar feats equally well. Those physical achievements, however difficult, unfortunately fail to hide in her case the lack of musicality, the absence of pure lines, and rather inexpressive arms and neck. The overall result is disappointing.

Michaela DePrince has undeniable skills and gifts and has trained at famous schools in the United States (The Rock and American Ballet Schools). At this point, the responsibility of guiding and structuring talent rests with the teachers. Ballet is an art and what differentiates it from sport is that it carries a meaning, a message; it conveys emotions. Each movement has a purpose and in its own silent way the body must sing, laugh or cry and be inhabited by music. It is the unfortunate tendency nowadays to sacrifice style and art for the sake of flashy tricks.

Michaela DePrince has been accepted into the Harlem Ballet Company. It is to be hoped that she will find the enlightened teacher and mentor who will nurture and inspire her, who will enable her to bloom as a true dancer, one whose artistry transcends technique.

Watch the Trailer for First Position:

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