The following is an article from our special
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
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.
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
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
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