Watch Yo Yo Ma and Misty Copeland perform for Stephen Colbert


At The Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert, principal dancer Misty Copeland discussed her upcoming documentary, A Ballerina’s Tale and her stand when it comes to talking about race. “We had a Black president before we had a Black principal ballerina for the American Ballet Theatre, it seems your job is a harder breakthrough,” Colbert commented.

Actually, a real breakthrough came this past summer, when, upon her promotion to principal dancer, she danced the role of Swan Queen Odette and her counterpart Odile in the most recent American Ballet Theater production of Swan Lake–she was the first African American dancer to dance that coveted role for the American Ballet Theatre. New York Times Critic Alistair Macaulay lauded the courage and grandeur of her interpretation of Odette, also praising her “flashes of bravery” in what is known as the most epic role in ballet.

Her presence at Colbert’s late night show, however, was not just about promoting her documentary. In fact, serenaded by Yo Yo Ma’s cello, she performed the Courante from Johann Sebastian Bach’s cello suite n.2: in the two minute-long video, a red-clad Copeland danced a choreography that gave Bach a contemporary, if not downright sexual, depth.

The virtuoso cellist did limit his performance to the courante of the kapellmeister from Köthen: together with John Batiste and Stay Human he also offered two web-exclusive performances, namely Saint Saëns’s Swan (an indirect nod to Copeland’s recent feat as Odette?) and Gershwin’s Prelude No. 1.