NORFOLK, Va. — From the Nutcracker to Sleeping Beauty, Ballet Virginia is bringing classical ballet to Hampton Roads -- and they’re also bringing diversity.
Lydia Roberts Coco has danced and choreographed ballet for years in a space where dancers of color didn’t always get the spotlight.
“Diversity in dance is important because our society is diverse,” Roberts Coco said.
But diversity in dance is about more than skin color. It’s about telling everyone’s stories.
As the artistic director of Ballet Virginia Professional Company, Roberts Coco brought the story of the Central Park Five to the stage in a production called "Beauty + Truth."
In 1989, a group of teens were coerced into wrongfully confessing to the brutal rape of a jogger. It’s an emotional story about injustice that hit close to home.
"The day after that weekend of that wonderful performance, one of our male guest artists was racially profiled," Roberts Coco said.
"I spoke to him and I was like, ‘You know, I'm so sorry this happened to you.’ And his response was, ‘It's okay Miss Lydia. I'm used to it.’ And that broke my heart, because no one should be used to that."
Roberts Coco said giving everyone a chance on stage -- and giving every story a chance to be told -- can inspire others.
Montes Pirtle, a dancer, said he wants to pave the way for others.
"I feel like in the dance world, a lot of us people of color aren't seen as much," he said.
“There's so many young people, youth, and older people who had dreams and aspirations of being a dancer and wanting to be included in such like a sacred, codified art.”
He said diversity in dance is something his mother didn't hope for, when she was younger.
“My mother, she wants to be a dancer but she didn't think that she could," Pirtle said. "She didn't think as a young African-American woman that she could do ballet or jazz, and be seen and be taken seriously.”
Pirtle is proof things are changing and barriers are coming down; partially because through art, we all share a common language.
“Dance is just a reflection of life, and life is about everyone, not just a certain color," Roberts Coco said.
“I read somewhere that - diversity is like being invited to the party, invited to the dance, and the inclusivity is actually having the chance to dance once you're there.”
Ballet Virginia is currently rehearsing for their upcoming production of Sleeping Beauty. You can catch a performance in April at The Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.
You can buy tickets online at sandlercenter.org. Tickets range from $22 to $47.