November 25, 2014

Alum Directs Web Series on Ballerina

Sheldon Candis' Piece on Misty Copeland Goes Viral

Before she rises on pointe for her exquisite relevé – before she gets anywhere near the ballet barre – Misty Copeland’s strength, poise, and grace is undeniable. From the moment she appears on screen, it’s clear why this boundary-breaking ballerina, one of only two black women to become soloists in the history of the American Ballet Theatre, was chosen to represent exceptional female athletes in Under Armour’s short film series, I Will What I Want.

Copeland, who grew up in poverty and began ballet at the YMCA at the unusually late age of 13, appears in the 3-episode series, part of Under Armour’s documentary-narrative hybrid films that celebrate women who have defied criticism and surmounted adversity through willpower and ability. The Copeland shorts, released this week on YouTube, were directed by School of Cinematic Arts alum Sheldon Candis.

Candis was drawn to the series for reasons that hit close to home. “I Will What I Want really translates to me. It speaks to my core,” he said, explaining that filmmaking can be a difficult career choice. “You’re on a constant journey of rejection. It’s a thousand ‘no’s’ for that one ‘yes,’ so I identify wholeheartedly with that theme.”

Certainly Copeland herself, who has spoke often of being told that she simply did not have the body of a ballerina, identifies with the premise of the series. As she glides across the room en pointe, effortless, head held high with lines stretching skyward, it’s hard to believe that anyone could have criticized her form. In these short films, the story of her remarkable journey is told in voiceover but mostly through the statuesque elegance of her poses, the confidence that radiates off her, and the obvious physical strain endured by athletes of her caliber. According to Candis, “We get to experience one of the world’s premiere ballerinas as she tells us her story and we witness the vigorous training and deep strain her body must go through to create the beautiful movement of ballet.”

Being such a skilled visual artist, Copeland is no stranger to performing on camera, but here, out of her vivid Firebird costume and dressed in simple Under Armour, we get to witness her pure physicality and athleticism.

Each 90-second short, set to a lush original score by composer, Nuno Malo, and brought to life by celloist, Tina Guo-Morabito, exemplifies the beauty of ballet. But capturing that beauty on film, says Candis, was no easy feat. “I knew going into it that my cinematographer, Phillip Freisenbichler, was going to have a field day with all of the wonderfully composed cinematic images we’d be able to capture,” he explained, “But we also found out that camera placement is key, being prepared is key, and also, being open to the spontaneity of dance is key.”

I Will What I Want is essentially a message to all women: to ignore the battery of criticisms — self-inflicted or otherwise — that make possible dreams seem impossible. Copeland is proof that perseverance, talent, and passion can and should win out over circumstances.