The following is an article from our special section,
American Ballet Theatre on the West Coast
.

 


"This dancer very much relishes the challenge which
modern dance choreographers
are offering to ballet."

 

Interview with Ethan Stiefel
Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre
September 7, 2001

By Basheva


Sometimes it pays to be a rambunctious active little boy, because your mother then takes you along to your sister’s ballet class, and the rest is history. Ethan Stiefel was intrigued by the physicality of the class and soon asked to participate, though he had no immediate nor any strong feelings toward the dance itself. However, this changed with time especially at the age of fourteen, when he found himself in class in New York City with ballet legends Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. He was captivated and inspired by these great dancers.

What a delight Ethan Stiefel is to talk to – articulate and friendly he easily states his views. When I asked if he enjoys touring he told me he likes to bring ballet to places where it might not otherwise be seen. He also enjoys the thought that perhaps he might inspire others, especially young males, and awaken in them enough interest to try dance for themselves. Otherwise, whilst touring he doesn’t get to see much of the cities and countries the ballet company visits, the focus being so totally on preparation for performance.

Starring in the movie Center Stage was a lot of fun for him but it did take some adjustment to a different medium which at first he found rather “daunting.” One difference was that there was no immediate response from a live audience. He has also enjoyed the many letters he received from people who saw the movie.

This dancer very much relishes the challenge which modern dance choreographers are offering to ballet. It takes ballet to a new level. He also said that while tradition is important and the classics need to be preserved, ballet also needs to find new avenues. Stiefel prepares differently when he dances a plotless modern ballet as opposed to a classical full-length story ballet. The modern pieces are generally shorter and he can put all his energy out at once into such a performance, whereas for a full length story ballet, he must pace his energy. However, preparing for a character role takes a great deal more mental preparation. The characterization has to be given care and thought.

The role of Albrecht in Giselle is his favorite and he feels it was a turning point in his career. Stiefel found that this role opened up avenues of interpretation for him, gave him “places” to go and discover. It was the first role which gave him freedom to add his own conception. In the future, though he does foresee the possibility of rethinking his current vision of Albrecht, for now he is deepening his present portrayal.

Part of preparing for performance includes finding a quiet place, alone, in an empty studio and stretching. He doesn’t give himself a full barre, just selected stretches and exercises, or as he says “just bounce around,” readying both mind and body for the coming performance. He feels a full barre would take too much of his energy and he wants that for the stage. After dancing, food is important, as he doesn’t eat before going on stage. An evening out with friends, such as a celebration of a friend’s debut, is relaxing and a way of winding down. Adrenaline from performing makes sleep difficult. Oh yes, he mentioned that an important activity after dancing is icing his knees.

On the subject of the general state of ballet and he said he very much enjoys being among dancers from many different schools and backgrounds. Each brings a unique vision that is stimulating, especially among the principal dancers. However, he agreed it can make corps de ballet work more difficult. As for the integration of dancers from many different schools into companies that used to traditionally be nationalistic, such as the Royal Ballet or Royal Danish Ballet, he sees both assets and liabilities. While true that such an influx can alter a national style, it can also infuse it with new growth. Stiefel feels that the administration and artistic direction of such companies can still nurture and protect the traditional national heritage.

As for the future after an obviously successful, and hopefully long, career in dance whatever he decides to do it will have to be physical. He says it would have to include movement, “whether it is with dance or as an auto mechanic.” The freedom to move is very important to him. At this time he doesn’t feel that choreography is “a calling,” but teaching and coaching might be. He discussed the importance of passing on the knowledge and tradition; he emphasized how essential it was for the coach and artist to relate to one another.

In his free time Ethan Stiefel enjoys music and watching sports such as baseball, soccer, Nascar racing, and football – he’s a Green Bay Packers fan.

What a wonderful artist, what a delightful man.

 

For the latest news, reviews and gossip, please visit our ABT 2001-02 US Tour discussion.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.


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