Entertainment

For The First Time Ever, A Black Girl Was Cast To Play Marie For The New York City Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

Who doesn’t love the holiday season? From the food and decorations to the Christmas specials and “The Nutcracker,” the holidays usher in a fun season for everyone. The New York City Ballet is changing some traditions and cast the first Black girl to play Marie in the famous ballet.

The New York City Ballet’s rendition of “The Nutcracker” will have its very first Black ballet dancer in the lead role of Marie.

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Playing Marie will be 11-year-old Charlotte Nebres, who attends the School of American Ballet. The New York Times reports that the New York City Ballet chooses its young dancers typically from that roster of children that attend that school. 

Danielle Nebres, Charlotte’s mother, recalled to The New York Times, the moment that her daughter informed her that she got the role. Charlotte casually told her mom that she won the part of Marie (out of 180 dancers) without making a big deal about it. 

“With that poker face of hers, she said, ‘Well, I’m Marie,’ And I just thought, oh my goodness — they really did it,” Danielle told The New York Times. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Charlotte was told that she would be the first Black Marie ever to be cast by The New York City Ballet, to which she responded, “Wow. That seems a little late.”

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Yes, it is! For Charlotte, who’s only 11 years old, she isn’t as conditioned to witness white people in most lead roles and in general. She grew up watching another Black pioneer in ballet, Misty Copeland. 

“I saw her perform, and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful,” Charlotte told The New York Times. “When I saw someone who looked like me on stage, I thought, that’s amazing. She was representing me and all the people like me.”

Charlotte isn’t the only person of color in the year’s season of The Nutcracker. The cast also includes “Tanner Quirk, who is half-Chinese, as her prince; Sophia Thomopoulos, who is half-Korean and half-Greek as the other Marie; and Kai Misra-Stone, who is half-South Asian, as Sophia’s prince,” People magazine reports. Charlotte herself is half-Trinidad, half Filipino. 

A New York City Ballet official said Charlotte wasn’t chosen to diversify the cast, but rather because she embodied the role of Marie completely.

Credit: westindianamericans / Instagram

“When I’m looking for someone who can do Marie, I’m looking for someone primarily who has an ability to act on stage and to convey a story,” Dena Abergel, children’s ballet master at New York City Ballet, told CNN. “It has to be someone who can command the stage and who has enough confidence and spontaneity to handle whatever comes her way.”

The School of American Ballet has, however, made a point to diversify its students. They are, after all, the ones who teach future stage dancers. The New York Times reports that in the past seven years, only 62 students are of mixed race, 12 of them identify as Black, and of that group only four in total are women. Now, since the school is trying to diversify its class, the New York City Ballet has more diversity to choose from. 

“Because I have the diversity of students and the pool to choose from that is diverse, some of those students will end up being the leads, and it just happened to work out without my even realizing it that all four were of some mixed diversity,” Abergel said to CNN. “And that’s just mirroring what’s happening in New York City and around the world.”

We love seeing more inclusivity in fictional characters that have been typically portrayed by white people.

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In recent years, we’ve seen several famous fictional characters, including Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” Cinderella, and even Maria, from “The West Story,” which were all previously played by white women. These stories are now being revised and played by women of color in order to show where our society has always been and how it is growing. 

For Charlotte, however, while the inclusion of a black girl in The Nutcracker is a big deal for her, this is all about dancing. 

“To me, it just feels like when I dance I feel free, and I feel empowered,” Charlotte told the New York Times. “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.”

Click here to try to score tickets to this show. 

READ: Elisa Carrillo Made History As The First Mexican Woman To Win This Prestigious Ballet Award And She Dedicated It To Her Home Country

Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

Culture

Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

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For many who regularly take part in the holiday season, Christmas traditions are strongly tied to religious beliefs and practices. The ways in which the customs around the holiday season are carried out often deeply rooted in cultural rituals and they often vary from family to family. For my Puerto Rican family, the holiday season is drawn out well past the first of January when radio stations reel back on the jingles and Mariah Carey classics. For us, the Twelve Days Of Christmas sales or songs we know of don’t relate to the days leading up to December 25, but rather the twelve days in between Christmas Day and January 6 The Epiphany, a biblical day that marks the final leg of the  Three Wise Men’s journey to deliver gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus Christ.

Día De Los Reyes has always been an especially important day for my family. The fact that “reyes” is my mother’s maiden name has only made the day a little sweeter.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

A more popular holiday back on the island, my abuela and abuelo Reyes brought their traditions to the mainland with them in the 1950s.

On the evening of January 5, each member of my family from grandfather to my youngest sobrino pull out cardboard shoe and clothing boxes (all marked with our names, drawn on and decorated over the years with crayons, markers, and glitter pens) to take part in a tradition that we hold dear in our hearts. After we’ve filled the boxes with snacks like carrots, lettuce, and sometimes grass for the Three Kings’ camels to munch on as they pass through our town we stick the boxes under our beds. Finally, just as we would with Santa Claus, we write the Three Kings–Los Reyes–a handwritten note wishing them safe travels as the journey to see the baby Jesus hoping that as they did with him on that first Epiphany, they’ll leave a small gift or token of some sort under our boxes.

Dia De Los Reyes functions similarly to Christmas Eve in my family. We all wake up and check under our boxes to see if we were good enough this year to receive any gifts. We’d go to mass together, where as kids we’d hope that maybe Los Reyes stayed in town with their camels long enough that day to be at the church community center to pose for photos. We would visit family and eat pernil and arroz con gandules, dishes reserved for celebrations and holidays.

As I got older I went to mass only sometimes and stopped looking to get my photos with Los Reyes.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

I never stopped checking my box for gifts though, or remembering each rey by the names older relatives taught me to write in my letters: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. As an adult I focused on new ways to celebrate “being a king,” as my family would say, and took on the role of expert coquito maker.

When I started dating and began wanting to bring boyfriends home for the holidays, part of my new role during the holiday season also unintentionally became one of both gatekeeper and teacher of my Puerto Rican culture. As a sophomore in college, I brought my then boyfriend home for December for the first time. In my household, Noche Buena, Christmas Day, New Years Day, New Year’s Eve, and Dia De Los Reyes were all days set aside for family, exclusively. I knew not to ask for exceptions, and in the past had willfully or grudgingly passed up holiday and New Years parties to honor the expectation of being en familia.

But in my twenties I badly started to yearn for my first New Years kiss and wanted, even more, to share part of my twelve days of Christmas with somebody who mattered to me.

My parents, on the other hand, were hesitant. Dia De Los Reyes was about Los Reyes, as in my family.

My boyfriend was someone they saw a few times a year and knew of only from phone calls, letters, texts, and video chats. Someone so unfamiliar certainly wasn’t considered family, and moreover someone who wasn’t Latino couldn’t possibly understand the sanctity of the day we’d honored so lovingly all our lives.

Most concerning of all, Dia De Los Reyes is also known among some circles as “the poor man’s Christmas,” my grandparents’ explanation being that back in the days of Jesus, being a king didn’t mean wealth like it means today. It meant that the giftschildren and observers receive in their boxes today are small, like a $10 gift card, socks, some mittens, or maybe candy. The last thing my family needed was for some guy they didn’t know to reach into an old shoebox of all things, pull out socks, and think we were cheap. With some convincing and a little grumbling, my family allowed me to write my boyfriend’s name on a box, fill it with lettuce and put it under my bed on January 5.

That night as I lay in bed, I did feel nervous knowing that I was bringing somebody into such a special part of my life that no one had ever seen before outside of my parents. Earlier in the day, I made sure to explain to him how seriously my family took our family only traditions, and how it wasn’t just about the religious holiday but the namesake that ties us to one another. I felt silly as I highlighted decorating beat-up boxes as one of my favorite traditions, something I hadn’t ever admitted out loud. Quiet and reserved, he listened to my stories but didn’t ask any questions.

In the morning, I still had my family only morning mass and our opening of gifts, but later that day my boyfriend was invited over for pasteles, coquito, and the checking of his first and only Three Kings Day box.

My parents observed with critical eyes as he went through the motions of our traditions, seeming charmed by the gifts of a hat and gloves left resting on top of torn up shreds of lettuce, proof that Los Reyes had come through our house. As he followed our lead I sat hoping that by participating in the events himself, he might better understand where my love for my culture comes from, or maybe even briefly feel the same sense of childhood joy I do on that day each year. Admittedly, it was an awkward day for everyone involved and not filled with all the magic I had hoped for. Nonetheless, I still felt proud of myself for being able to break down a barrier that had long existed between myself and not only romantic connections but a friend, too.

I wanted the opportunity to show those outside of my family the part of my identity that I hadn’t always made transparent in my daily life, even if that meant that they didn’t understand or wouldn’t “get it” at first.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Even though the person who got to take the test run of my family only traditions and I aren’t together anymore, a few years ago he broke the mold for being able to bring others into a part of my life I was using to shutting so many close to me out of.n Maybe he did think that of us, our gifts, or the day we celebrate as cheap, but after the fact I, didn’t care. In the years that have followed, what has mattered most to me has been that I could start sharing Reyes, this name that laid down the foundation to who I am before I was ever born, and all the nuances that come with it with those I want to know me better.

This Dia De Los Reyes will be one of a few Reyes family festivities that my current boyfriend will be participating in, and another year where my family pulls out his box and welcomes his extra cheer into our holidays. While he’s still learning about my roots, I’m still learning that I can take these moments and use them to bring myself closer to my culture and my loved ones.


Read: Twitter’s Latest Hashtag Fights Back Against The Normalization Of Death And Violence Against Migrant Youth

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The Jewish Community Has Been Attacked In Recent Weeks So The Guardian Angels Are Stepping Up To Help

Things That Matter

The Jewish Community Has Been Attacked In Recent Weeks So The Guardian Angels Are Stepping Up To Help

The Red Berets / Facebook

In the past week, hate crimes have occurred back-to-back. And, it’s not just this week. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a somewhat shocking report in November that stated an increase in hate crimes in 2018. The FBI noted in 2018 that hate crimes reached a 16-year high. We say that the news was somewhat shocking because violence in the United States feels never-ending. If we’re not dealing with mass shootings, we’re dealing with crimes against people because of their background — sometimes both at the same time. Now — as if these actions were taken from a movie — people are taking it upon themselves to fight crime if authorities cannot. 

The Guardian Angels have vowed to patrol the streets of New York City after a slew of anti-Semitic crimes in the state.

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“These attacks are taking place, and the cops have not been proactive at all,” Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, told NBC News. “It comes from City Hall and the mayor. He’s been just apathetic.” 

“We’re a visual deterrence in our red berets and our red satin jackets,” Sliwa added. “Nobody’s going to commit an attack when we’re around.” So what exactly will the Guardian Angels do if someone does attempt to commit a crime and they happen to be there, Sliwa responded by saying, “we’ll physically restrain the persons responsible, make a citizen’s arrest and hold them until the police arrive.”

The Guardian Angels is a nonprofit that formed in 1979 and has “safety patrols chapters throughout the United States and worldwide.”

Credit: The Red Berets / Facebook

According to its website, Sliwa founded the group and currently has 12 volunteers in New York City. “The ‘Magnificent 13’ rode the subways to conduct safety patrol. For 37 years, thousands of people have joined the Guardian Angels and created chapters in over 130 cities in 13 countries to protect their communities and improve substantially the quality of life.”

However, not everyone is pleased that the Guardian Angels are taking on a vigilantly stand, especially because the group’s founding member has made disparaging remarks against various groups.

Credit: @rafaelshimunov / Twitter

Political activist Rafael Shimunov tweeted a thread of clips that showed Sliwa making fun of the Jewish community and disparaging the Black community as well. Someone also linked out to a 1992 New York Times story in which Sliwa admitted to faking crimes for publicity. 

Yet, others on social media are praising the Guadian Angels for stepping up and fighting hate crime in New York City streets.

Credit: @MUCKWlTCH / Twitter

One man tweeted, “So glad to see the Guardian Angels still doing amazing work on the streets after so many years. I remember hearing their amazing stories growing up. Thank you @CurtisSliwa and the @GA_DareToCare team!”

Another tweeted, “Love the Guardian Angels but it’s kind of crazy that this is where we’re at. Citizens on patrol duty in NYC. Onus is on all of us to band together and speak up in the face of discrimination and prejudice. Now more than ever. Silence is complicity. #zerotolerance #lovetrumpshate.”

Time will tell if the Guardian Angels will do anything to stop these hate crimes going on in New York and around the country because they’re not stopping anytime soon. 

On Dec. 28, a woman, who was with her young son, reported that she was hit on the head after a woman yelled anti-Semitic slurs at her. Also, last week, police said at least “three incidents of possible hate-based attacks against Jews in less than 72 hours.”

On Saturday night, a man stabbed five Hasidic Jews who were at home celebrating Hanukkah in Monsey in upstate New York. The assailant was arrested in Harlem and charged over the weekend. 

“People inside fought to stop him,” Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, told the New York Times. “It was very heroic of them. They didn’t just let this happen — they tried to defend themselves.”

As we noted, the FBI reports a surge of hate crimes, but we should also mention that the group being targeted more than any other group is the Latino community. 

Credit: @berniesanders / Twitter

“The FBI said 485 hate crimes against Latinos were reported in 2018, up from 430 in 2017,” the New York Times reports. “It said 270 crimes were reported against Muslims and Arab-Americans, the fewest since 2014,” They added, “Hate crimes against Latinos were at their highest level since 2010, when the unemployment rate and border crossings from Mexico were both peaking. Some advocates placed the blame for the recent rise on President Trump.” 

READ: Anti-Semitism Rocked A NYC Subway When A Woman Physically Assaulted A Jewish Woman