Ruth Copland features her interview with Raven Wilkinson, ballet dancer and actress. Raven was the first black female dancer to be hired to dance full-time in a major ballet company in America (broadcast 9 September). Born in Harlem, New York, Raven began studying ballet at the age of nine studying under Vecheslav and Maria Swoboda, both Moscow Bolshoi Theatre-trained ballet dancers. Raven went on to dance for five years with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the corps and as a soloist in Les Sylphides, only leaving when racial prejudice and segregation made it impossible for her to perform in certain Southern American states preventing her from touring fully with the company. After leaving Ballet Russe, Raven went on to dance with the Dutch National Ballet for seven years performing soloist roles in Symphony in C, La Valse, The Snow Maidens, and Graduation Ball. Lois Bewley, a dancer with Ballets Russes, American Ballet Theatre, and New York City Ballet, has said that “Of all the dancers I have ever known Raven is one of the most beautiful.” And Arthur Mitchell, principal dancer at New York City Ballet and founder of Dance Theatre Harlem has said of seeing Raven dance she had “beautiful feet” and was “quite lyrical”. Raven retired from ballet in 1973 but went on to perform character roles with the New York City Opera. Raven’s career has inspired many ballet dancers of colour, including the first African-American performer to be appointed as a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland, for whom Raven has been a mentor.
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