Abrera as Gulnare in Le Corsaire

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Stella Abrera's Final ABT Season Was Cut Short, But She's Looking to the Future

Stella Abrera's name ("stella" means "star" in Latin) proved prophetic in the final stretch of her 24-year career at American Ballet Theatre. Abrera joined ABT's corps de ballet in 1996, was promoted to soloist in 2001 and, finally, after an uncommonly lengthy stretch, principal in 2015, making her the first Filipina American to reach the top rank in the company's history. Her farewell season, like much of the performing world, was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. ABT's spring U.S. tour was postponed, and her scheduled June 13 farewell performance of Giselle was canceled alongside the rest of the company's annual eight-week engagement at the Metropolitan Opera House. But the turmoil hasn't darkened her outlook. Now, at 41, she is excited for her new role as Kaatsbaan Cultural Park for Dance artistic director.


You're retiring just five years after being named principal. How have you prepared mentally for this moment?

Around 10 years ago, I suffered a really epic back injury that took me offstage for two years. Because of that, I've approached every show with the thought that this could be my last. It wasn't a doomsday feeling; it was like, "You better savor this." So I feel like maybe I had already prepared myself for the mourning process that I have witnessed in close friends who have retired before me.

If you'd known a pandemic would cut your final season short, would you have delayed retiring?

I don't know if it would have changed, even considering the circumstances. I knew that my physical strength and power were already on the other side of my peak. And I wanted to leave the stage still proud of what I could present physically.

Looking back, any favorite roles?

I have had highlights from different stages of my career: dancing In the Upper Room with Gillian Murphy as a fellow "stomper," taking part in Ethan Stiefel's retirement show with all of my close friends, dancing with my husband, Sascha Radetsky, my ABT Giselle debut.

Stella Abrera balances in an open arabesque, arms in high fifth, during the first act of Giselle.

Abrera in Giselle

MIRA, Courtesy ABT

What are you looking forward to next?

As the artistic director of Kaatsbaan, I began a summer coaching and training initiative for young professional dancers in the ranks of apprentice to year five corps de ballet. This demographic is kind of a waiting area. They're paying their dues. I offer two weeks for a small group to work on the pas de deux and solos that they don't really get to work on during their season. I ask them to choose one dream role, like Juliet or Odette/Odile, and then I also ask them to pick a solo that's within the realm of their next possible step, such as the Swan Lake pas de trois.

What dream role would you have chosen?

Like many dancers in my generation, I was obsessed with that taped Baryshnikov Don Quixote show at the Met. So I was definitely trying to be Kitri for many hours as a kid. That did not come true for me in my grown-up life. I don't think anyone does every single role that they ever wanted to do. But I'm still okay with it. I feel like I have had a very full experience as a professional dancer.

Advice to young dancers?

Be as open as you can be to learning, and observing people around you—in all ranks, in all departments, the whole company. You have to work hard, but you also have to take a step back and look at the big picture: our role as dancers, the importance of art and the impact it has on our culture. Don't get stuck in a tunnel.

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Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names and photos to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami CIty Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

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