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Ballerina Misty Copeland to Premiere ‘Flower’ in Oakland

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A woman with short brown hair, a leotard and pants smiles at dancers on the street, with storefronts in the background
Misty Copeland watches turf dancers perform in a scene from the short film ‘Flower.’  (Courtesy of Life in Motion Productions)

The only voices heard in Flower, a 28-minute film produced by world-renowned ballet dancer Misty Copeland, belong to three unhoused residents of an RV encampment in West Oakland.

The choice was very much intentional — Copeland herself experienced housing and food insecurity for much of her childhood. “It can happen to anyone,” she says in an interview. “So many Americans are one paycheck away from losing their home.”

A film about a woman struggling to hang on to the family home she shares with her dementia-stricken mother, Flower screens on Friday, Sept. 29, as part of Oakland Ballet’s season opener at the Paramount Theatre. Copeland will be on stage to present.

 

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Copeland hopes Flower not only highlights the housing affordability crisis, but challenges the tropes of what homelessness looks like.

The film is the first for Copeland’s production company, Life in Motion, which she co-founded with ballerina Leyla Fayyaz, an Emmy-winning producer. Also behind the scenes of Flower is a who’s-who of Bay Area-bred stars. Grammy-winning artist Raphael Saadiq composed the score, with a stirring, repeated refrain of “I’m heeeeere now” that won’t soon leave the viewer’s memory.

Street dancers-turned-choreographers to the stars Rich and Tone Talauega, aka Rich + Tone, contribute their moves. Raised in Richmond, the brothers were discovered by one of Michael Jackson’s choreographers while freestyling at an Oakland club in the early ’90s. And Alonzo King (of San Francisco’s Alonzo King LINES Ballet), who’s known Copeland since she was a teen, also choreographs.

A man and woman float in repose against a black background
Misty Copeland with co-star Babatunji Johnson in the short film ‘Flower.’ (Courtesy of Life in Motion Productions)

Local talent shines on screen, as well. Bay Area dancer Babatunji Johnson co-stars with Copeland; turf dancers – including Algerion “Krow” Bryant – perform in the film; and Oakland Ballet youth appear as students in a scene where Copeland’s character teaches a ballet class.

“It was important that we had people [who] are from the community,” says Copeland, whose husband, Olu Evans, was born and raised in Oakland. “Not necessarily for the world, but for that community to say, ‘we know that person,’ [or] ‘there’s that place – Mama’s Royal Café.’ That’s our community. That’s really us. It’s not this Hollywood facade.”

A woman in a black top and hair pulled back looks up as older houses stand in the background
Misty Copeland in ‘Flower.’ (Courtesy of Life in Motion Productions)

That same intention also went into incorporating the real experiences of the three unhoused community members in the West Oakland RV encampment.

“It made sense to use that one opportunity where people speak, to give that opportunity to people who are often voiceless or overlooked,” Copeland says. “I feel like it really is the glue that brings the story together in a powerful way.”

The Sept. 29 event at the Paramount Theatre also features live dance performances by Johnson, Krow, turf dancers, Destiny Arts youth and ballerina Angela Watson from Oakland. Highlights from the Oakland Ballet Company shows Luna Mexicana, Dancing Moons Festival and The Nutcracker round out the program.

“It’s super exciting,” Copeland says of the long-awaited Oakland premiere. “We hope that we did the community justice.”

‘Flower,’ starring Misty Copeland, premieres at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. The film premiere is accompanied by live performances by Oakland Ballet and others. Details here.

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