San Francisco Ballet Company’s Corps de Ballet member Kimberly Marie Olivier on breaking boundaries.

Marie Olivier backstage at The Black Iris Project, Summerstage at Central Park, New York City, all photography by Bramble Trionfo

Although many people know who Misty Copeland [the first African-American principal ballet dancer at the American Ballet Theatre] is, the classical ballet world strongly lacks minorities and biracial people like myself.

So, when the choreographer JEREMY MCQUEEN contacted me in March 2016, asking me to perform in the Black Iris Project, his ballet collaborative celebrating black history, I immediately said yes.

I’d always wanted to dance with a majority of black dancers, and his choreography was something that America had been waiting for.

The Black Iris Project was set to premiere in June at New York City’s Summerstage, and I had plans to be there then, so the timing worked out perfectly.

Jeremy offered me the lead ballerina role — another first — which I graciously accepted.

On the opening night of the show, I performed a piece about the role of a strong black woman who prevailed against the racial stronghold’s and stigmas she faced.

Collaborating with Jeremy was an eye opening experience that changed my perspective, and strengthened my character. He taught me that the story I was performing was greater than myself, which allowed me to prevail against my own personal challenges.

The history of race isn’t often told through dance, and I felt very proud to represent my culture for a greater, better cause.

— as told to The Thick

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