After eight years captivating audiences in the Netherlands at The Dutch National Ballet, Michaela DePrince is now bringing her magnetism to Boston Ballet as a second soloist. But she’s got even bigger plans than simply blessing American audiences with her soaring jumps, expansive lines and pristine technique. As a survivor of the 1991–2002 Sierra Leone Civil War, DePrince has her heart set on making a difference in the world through arts-based humanitarian work.
Much of DePrince’s early childhood dance training was at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At 15, she moved to New York City to attend American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school for two years before she accepted her first company contract with Dance Theater of Harlem at age 17. After just one year with the company, DePrince was offered a spot on the Dutch National Ballet’s junior company. So, she packed up her things and moved across the world to Amsterdam, where she would perform for the next eight years of her life. She was promoted to soloist in 2016 before joining Boston Ballet as a second soloist in September 2021.
Here, DePrince opens up about the biggest turning point in her career, her advice for educators in 2022 and her future humanitarian goals.
On her most influential teacher: “I met Charla Genn while rehearsing for her first principal role (Gulnar, from Le Corsaire) with South African Ballet when I was 16, and she has been in my life ever since. To this day, whenever I am injured or just want to take class, we hop on a Zoom meeting and she will see if I’m working correctly and give me exercises to help me improve. She doesn’t coach me for her own recognition, but because she wants me to succeed.”
On her favorite correction she’s ever received: “Charla says that life is like a rond de jambe: Everything will go in continuous circles. Everything should move continually, even when you are still. She also tells me to pretend that my nails are paintbrushes and that I am painting the world with my hands.”
On the biggest turning point in her training: “My technique really took off when I joined the JKO School and was able to work with Raymond Lukens and Franco DeVita on details. People know that I’m strong and a high jumper, so they often cast me in athletic roles. But at the JKO School I was given the chance to be delicate and not just athletic.”
On how she knew she had a bright future in ballet: “Shortly after I joined the Dutch National’s main company, one of the principals wasn’t able to do a certain ballet and they needed a replacement. I was at the bottom of the food chain but was given the opportunity. I progressed so quickly in the role that I realized with the right environment and confidence, I could become something special.”
Her advice for educators in 2022: “To be honest, I was pushed too hard at times. When you are teaching young children, you need to be positive. Be there for your students so you can see them succeed, not so you can get something out of it. Make your students feel safe, and the positive atmosphere will allow them to improve as well as enjoy dance.”
Her goals for the future: “I’m a War Child ambassador, and in 2019 I had a gala through which I was able to help 5,000 people. I hope to be able to do more of that in the future. I also hope to one day open an arts school in Sierra Leone, because as a war refugee, the arts gave me and my siblings opportunity. Having that outlet was so important to me, and I would love to bring it to others.”