11-Year-Old Ballerina Charlotte Nebres Makes History as First Black Lead in NYC Ballet's The Nutcracker

POISED: Charlotte Nebres auditioning in 2015.
POISED: Charlotte Nebres auditioning in 2015.
Photo: Timothy A. Clary (Getty Images)

She’s just eleven years old and just made history.

Charlotte Nebres is starring as Marie, the young heroine of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, which opened Friday at New York City Ballet. She’s the first black ballerina to be cast in the lead role for the prestigious company.


The Madison, NJ native’s barrier-breaking achievement is a milestone for the holiday-themed production, which dates back to February 2, 1954when Balanchine put his own spin on E.T.A Hoffman’s 1816 scary fairytale after dancing in Marius Petipa’s adaptation in 1919 when he was 15.

Set to Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky’s classic score, Balanchine’s The Nutcracker features the New York City 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 New York City Ballet.

Nebres, whose mother is of Trinidadian descent and father’s side is from the Philippines, was six years old when Misty Copeland became the first female African-American principal at American Ballet Theater.

The trailblazing ballerina’s performance moved and motivated the gifted child.

“I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful,” she said in an interview published Thursday by the New York Times.


“When I saw someone who looked like me onstage, I thought, that’s amazing. She was representing me and all the people like me,” Nebres added.

Copeland has won raves for portraying the princess role in ABT’s production and even was a featured dancer in Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms last year.


Nebres is the middle child of three who attends the ABT school and the one her mother, Danielle, refers to her as a quiet and artistic “free spirit” who likes to draw and sing.

When she broke the news to Charlotte that she was the first to portray Marie, her response was “Wow. That seems a little late,” Danielle recalled.


The other young leads this season are people of color, too.

Tanner Quirk (the Prince) is half-Chinese; the alternate Marie, Sophia Thomopoulos, is half-Korean, half-Greek; and the alternate prince, Kai Misra-Stone, is half-South Asian.


“It’s pretty amazing to be not only representing S.A.B., but also representing all of our cultures,” Nebres said of the diversity.

Being etched in history is not lost on her either.

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


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

Charlotte Nebres is the epitome of Black Girl Magic.

Remember her name.

Hailing from "the thorough borough" of Brooklyn, Mr. Daniels has written for The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Essence, VIBE, NBC News, The Daily Beast, The New York Daily News and Word Up!


Lord Whistledown

A couple of Christmases ago, my wife and I drove two hours through traffic to see Misty Copeland in The Nutcracker at the Segerstrom in Orange County (and folks in LA know you don’t bother to go to OC without a good reason). It was amazing and I hate the Nutcracker. Really cool seeing so many black and brown girls running around the place with hair in tight buns.

BTW, looks like she’s doing it this year Dec 15-21, if you want to go to Orange County for a good reason.