Stella Abrera Takes Us Behind the Scenes of This Weekend’s American Ballet Theatre Performances

The South Pasadena native and principal ballerina is back in L.A. for three nights

Stella Abrera, Misty Copeland, and the rest of the dancers in the prestigious American Ballet Theatre return to the Music Center on July 8, 9, and 10 with a program choreographed by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky. Abrera, who lived in South Pasadena, is the first Filipino-American principal ballerina in the history of the American Ballet Theatre; her promotion to the rank was not only a milestone in her own career—she’s been with the company for two decades—but a defining moment in the long lineage of ballet. She is a beautiful and gracious artist on stage and off, as is evidenced by her charity, Steps Forward for the Philippines (which seeks to meet the educational and creative needs of Filipino children affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan). We caught up with her ahead of her performances in this weekend’s in Symphony No. 9, an exuberant and youthful Ratmansky piece set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, and Firebird, an enchanting story brought to life by Ratmansky’s choreographed steps.

How does your position as a powerful woman transforming the arts, and a role model to many, affect the values you instill in your everyday life?
I like to think that my position at ABT and in the dance world only exerts a positive influence on my core values and deepens the imperative to invest professionalism, dedication, and good humor in my work.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of founding your charity, Steps Forward for the Philippines? 
Steps Forward for the Philippines has been deeply gratifying initiative in myriad ways. I was so appreciative—and proud—of how the dance community (as well as my dear friends and family) pulled together to help the children impacted by Typhoon Haiyan. Most rewarding, of course, and most inspiring, was meeting those incredible kids in person, glimpsing their courage and resourcefulness, and seeing their station in life ever so slightly improve. They were so sweet and so grateful. Visiting them was a powerfully humbling experience.

What is unique about this particular Ratmansky program?
This program offers a diverse sampling of Alexei’s ABT creations, from the Soviet-tinged yet somewhat abstract Symphony No. 9 (part one of his Shostakovich trilogy) to Symposium, where Alexei ventures, for the first time, into the heady realm of American music (Bernstein), to Firebird, which is based on an old Russian fairy tale and set to a whirlwind of a Stravinsky score. These three works are distinct from one another, yet each features witty, poetic choreography and showcases this company’s technical and dramatic virtuosity.

Stella Abrera in Firebird

Photograph by Gene Schiavone/American Ballet Theatre

Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo in Firebird


Scene from Firebird.

Photograph by Gene Schiavone/American Ballet Theatre

Misty Copeland and Roman Zhurbin in Firebird

Photograph by Gene Schiavone/American Ballet Theatre