Brooklyn Mack and Misty Copeland. Photo by Theo Kossenas.

Many little girls dream of becoming ballerinas.  But rarely are they afforded the chance to witness professional African-American ballet dancers in celebrated productions or on national stages.  This changed for D.C.-area residents with The Washington Ballet’s opening of “Swan Lake,” at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater featuring Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack.  The production premiered April 8 and ran until April 12.

Copeland, a soloist with American Ballet Theatre portrayed the dual role of Odette / Odile, while Brooklyn Mack of The Washington Ballet danced as Prince Siegfried.

Recently named to the Time magazine 100 Most Influential People by famed gymnast Nadia Comaneci, Copeland said that “Swan Lake” was not a production in which she necessarily considered dancing lead.

“It’s just something that’s so engrained in the ballet culture, in us as dancers that you just envision a certain type of person portraying that role so it’s incredible to be able to be a brown swan,” Copeland said.

Mack, the first African-American man to win gold at the 2012 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, said he initially became interested in ballet as a means of toning his body for football.  Once his training began, however, he never turned back.

“ snuck up on me. I always use the analogy that there’s a vine called Wisteria and it just wraps around trees and engulfs them slowly; that’s pretty much what ballet did to me. It took me over before I knew it,” Mack said.

Productions of “Swan Lake” have been enjoyed by audiences for more than a century and is considered by many to be the greatest classical ballet of all time.  Called “mysterious,” “compelling” and “lyrical,” the original work by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky followed the beautiful Princess Odette, a passionate prince, and the wicked sorcerer who turns her into a swan. His evil spell can only be broken when a young man pledges his love and marries her.

Reviewers have offered modest praise for Copeland and Mack, noting as one critique did that “the hype surrounding Copeland and Mack’s casting betrays the astonishing narrow-mindedness of the ballet world’s tastemakers in the face of a dwindling audience.”