A Quiet Dignity: ABT Principal Stella Abrera Understands the Power of Perspective
This story originally appeared in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of
Before your promotion to principal this summer, you were an ABT soloist for 14 years. How did you stay patient when it seemed a promotion was unlikely?
When I was cast to do my first Giselle eight years ago, I was sidelined by an injury for 18 months. I had to find my way again. I’ve sometimes felt frustrated, but you have to make the best out of every situation. My focus was simple: I still wanted to dance. I was already in my dream company, so why not focus on what roles I was given and be the best I could possibly be? Once I made that shift, it really eased my path.
You finally performed the role of
Giselle at ABT last spring. How did you handle the pressure?
I was filling in for an injured dancer and only had 10 days to fine-tune things. It was also an ABT alumni event, so there were 200 ex-dancers in the audience. And part of the reason it was such a dream for me was because the role had slipped through my fingers years ago because of my injury. My brain just went into tunnel-vision mode—I didn’t allow myself to think about what it all meant.
Abrera in “The Bright Stream.” Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
What kind of music do you listen to before a show?
I listen to a lot of bluesy and powerful women like Aretha Franklin and Alanis Morissette. I can sing along and get into the zone. It relaxes me.
What’s your biggest indulgence?
Bacon with pancakes for Sunday brunch at home.
What advice do you have for aspiring professional dancers?
You must approach your work thoughtfully and have the innate ability to self-motivate. You can’t always rely on the coaching of your teachers—you have to work beyond that one hour with them.
If you could invite anyone in history to dinner, who would be on your guest list?
Janis Joplin—I love her music and find her spirit to be so free and awesome. Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain is my favorite movie), Einstein (because physics fascinates me), Audrey Hepburn, Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth I, Julia Child, Katharine Hepburn and Margot Fonteyn. What a weird dynamic at my table!
Abrera in “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.
To whom would you attribute your success?
My husband, Sascha Radetsky; my best friend, Gillian Murphy; the many physical therapists who coached me through my recovery; and my colleague, Craig Salstein, who took me back to the barre and helped rebuild my technique every day for four months. He got me back to my first show and continued to touch base with me.
Have you had a worst nightmare onstage?
I once fell flat on my face during a performance of Snow Queen. I had to do a double manège of crazy jumps and turns amidst this blizzard falling onstage. I went for it, took a big step and face-planted. I saw all this snow fly up from the floor and thought, “I should just make some snow angels while I’m down here.”
How do you find balance?
My husband really helps me find balance in enjoying the outdoors and exploring the country on road trips. Culinary adventures are also a fun interest of mine—cooking and entertaining help me decompress.
What’s the least glamorous part of being a dancer?
Injury, for sure. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t dealt with it. I’m sure a lot of dancers like to be in control. But your body takes as long as it needs to recover and get back to full strength. When you are in that moment of regaining your strength and courage, it’s really a leap of faith.
If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?
I want to stay in the dance world when I retire. Everything I experienced since I joined ABT has been a great education, and I want to pass it on to the next generation.