Dancer Spotlight: ABT by Way of Australia

Stephanie Williams followed her dream to New York.
Published in the August/September 2012 issue.

Williams, at center, in the corps of Ratmansky's "Firebird." Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Stephanie Williams, one of American Ballet Theatre’s newest corps members, loves to move. As she waltzes and balancés through a rehearsal of Giselle, she’s as involved dancing a peasant in the ensemble as she would be dancing Giselle herself. Williams brings considerable experience to her corps position. She danced with The Australian Ballet for four years before embarking on a wider quest in New York. With her lovely classicism, ample jump, sunny smile and quick learning skills, the 5' 5" dancer has every chance of success in her new company.

 Williams grew up in Newcastle, New South Wales, a mining town  north of Sydney, which she claims has produced (Billy Elliot–style) a surprising number of dancers. She trained at the Marie Walton-Mahon Dance Academy and, at age 11, when dancers from The Australian Ballet came to perform Don Quixote, she announced to her mother that she wanted to be a ballet dancer. “It was intriguing for me to realize you could make that your life,” she says. At 15, she entered The Australian Ballet School, where she studied with teachers like Marilyn Rowe, the school’s director, who helped Williams shape her goals. “Stephanie possesses physical beauty, purity of line, artistic depth, musicality and an understated and easy technique that sets her apart,” says Rowe. “She also has a wonderful work ethic and is an artist of great generosity.”

After graduation, Williams joined The Australian Ballet as a corps member. There she danced principal roles in ballets like Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun, Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Rehearsing with choreographer Wayne McGregor on Dyad 1929 proved a transformative experience. “It’s so mesmerizing the way he works,” she says. “You can see his brain telling his body how to move. His movements are unique, and so different that you have to be fearless to even attempt them. Working with him gave me such fulfillment.”

So why did she decide to leave? A promotion to coryphée in 2008 and a guesting gig with Morphoses in 2009 triggered an itch to take more professional chances. Williams says she felt herself getting stuck: “I needed to explore. I’m always best when I’m open to people, places and opportunities,” she explains. “I felt like my life was closing off and that scared me.”

She left Australia with zero planning and globe-hopped for six months. “I found a really good perspective on life,” she says. “I was getting to a point where I was feeling a little too consumed with getting to a certain status or a certain role.” She joined the Dutch National Ballet for six months, but  had long hoped to dance at ABT. One day she sent an email to inquire about taking company class. They said yes, she flew over and was hired this January.

During ABT’s spring season, she danced corps roles in a number of ballets, including Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions and Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream and new Firebird. Living in the city that never sleeps has been an easy adjustment for Williams, an insomniac. When not dancing, she runs, which calms her busy mind, or reads. Her colleagues in Australia miss her, but also respect her choices. “It was very difficult to see Stephanie leave, but she needed to stretch her wings and experience the world of dance on an international level,” says Rowe. “I hope that in time, she will return to her home country and company, where the journey began. She is, after all, a product of this wonderful land.”