A Midsummer Makeover

Ethan Stiefel and Gillian Murphy on a new Midsummer Night’s Dream at American Repertory Ballet

Fjord Review

Ethan Stiefel thinks the world could use some laughter right now. “My mantra as of late has been that love and laughter can prevail,” says the former American Ballet Theatre star, who took the reins of the Princeton, New Jersey-based American Repertory Ballet last summer. “I felt that coming out of the pandemic it would be great to have a new ballet that really exudes laughter and joy.”

Enter Stiefel’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” his first full-length work for ARB, set to the rarely-heard Erich Wolfgang Korngold score. Stiefel’s reimagining, which premieres this weekend at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, doubles down on the whimsy of the Shakespearian comedy. (And not just in the ballet itself: Pre-show activities on opening night include a petting zoo and a fairy face painting station.)

Though the production is family-friendly, it’s too sophisticated to be just a kids show. The source of some of that sophistication: Luminous ABT principal Gillian Murphy, who is married to Stiefel, and who will dance the role of Oberon in several performances. Yes, Oberon, King of the Fairies, a role typically played by male virtuosos from Edward Villella to Stiefel himself. In Stiefel’s version, a more vulnerable but no less virtuosic Oberon is a woman, and is instead the leader of the elves. I spoke to Stiefel and Murphy about adapting the character to be a woman, the ballet’s unique score, and their vision for ARB.

For the full article, visit Fjord

Fairies, elves and a live donkey: New ‘Dream’ ballet has something for everyone

Home News Tribune

When you go to the ballet, you probably do not expect to see a petting zoo.

But that’s exactly what you’ll find at the opening night of American Repertory Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (There’s even a donkey!)

And that kind of family-friendly offering is exactly what new ARB artistic director Ethan Stiefel is aiming for.

His new interpretation of the Shakespeare classic, which he conceived and choreographed, is about 70 minutes long, making it perfect for audiences of all ages, he said. It will have its world premiere from April 1 to 3 at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.

“It’s an interactive experience, as well as a theatrical show,” he said.

The show is set to Felix Mendelssohn’s iconic score, with additional music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is Stiefel’s first full-length ballet for the company since he was named artistic director last summer. It will be performed in collaboration with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Bean.

“The ballet is going to really follow and stay true to the essence of the Shakespeare story, but at the same time I’ve put a little bit of a twist into it,” he said.

Oberon will be played by a woman, and Stiefel has added elves to the story.

“There’s a team elf and a team fairy,” he said. “Oberon in many legends or lore means ruler or leader of the elves. And so Oberon will actually have elves and Titania will have her fairies, which is, I think, going to be a cool and fun source of amusing conflict.”

He said that conflict will draw audience participation, and there will be other ways to show team pride, including themed merchandise.

ARB artistic associate and American Ballet Theatre principal ballerina Gillian Murphy, Stiefel’s wife, will dance the role of Oberon. The rest of the cast includes the entire ARB company and trainees from the Princeton Ballet School.

Stiefel stressed the importance of making ballet, and this production specifically, appeal to all.

“Arts is the source of inspiration and an elevation of spirit,” he said.

For the full article, visit the Home News Tribune

BWW Interview: Ethan Stiefel-Artistic Director of American Repertory Ballet and MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at NBPAC

Broadway World

American Repertory Ballet (ARB) will present the world premiere of Ethan Stiefel‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream from April 1 to April 3 at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC). This is his first full-length ballet for the company since being named Artistic Director in the summer of 2021. Stiefel’s magical production for audiences of all ages will be performed in collaboration with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Bean.

Set to Felix Mendelssohn‘s iconic score with additional music written for film by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the enchanting production will transport audiences to a fantastical forest filled with fairies, elves, mischief, romance, joy and love. ARB’s Artistic Associate and American Ballet Theatre principal ballerina Gillian Murphy will dance the role of Oberon, leader of the elves.

Family-friendly activities inspired by the production will take place all weekend. On April 1, from 3:00-5:00 p.m., American Repertory Ballet will partner with the Arts Institute of Middlesex County with A Midsummer Night’s Dream themed programming as part of the Arts Institute’s First Fridays at Monument Square Park in New Brunswick. Children of all ages can enjoy a petting zoo, fairy and elf hand painting, a beginner ballet class offered by Princeton Ballet School and DANCE POWER, giveaways, and more. The Arts Institute’s First Fridays attendees will also experience fantastic art in the making with spoken word poetry, courtesy of Basement Shakes, live mural installation by New Brunswick Public Schools Art Teacher Danielle Fleming and the Art Club students, and a papermaking workshop, featuring lines of poetry from the ballet.

Children can also enjoy elf, fairy, and donkey themed face-painting in the lobby of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center beginning at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 2nd and Sunday April 3rd, to further enhance the performance experience.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Ethan Stiefel about his career, the ARB and the upcoming performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream at NBPAC.

Ethan Stiefel is an internationally renowned Dancer, Instructor, Coach, Director, and Choreographer. He is currently the Principal Guest Instructor at American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Stiefel was the Artistic Director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) from 2011-2014. Just prior to being appointed the RNZB’s Artistic Director, Stiefel served as Dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA).

Stiefel began his professional career at age 16 with the New York City Ballet where he quickly rose to the rank of Principal Dancer. He was also a Principal Dancer with Ballett Zürich and joined American Ballet Theatre as a Principal Dancer in 1997. Stiefel gave his final performance with ABT in July 2012.

Can you tell us a little about your early training as a dancer?

I began my training in Madison, WI, at the Monona Academy of Dance when I was about nine. My sister Erin was interested in ballet and started lessons first. I wasn’t interested in ballet really, but my mom wouldn’t leave me at home alone because I was an active kid and was breaking furniture and stuff while playing sports in the house. After about 2 years in Monona, my sister and I studied at The Milwaukee Ballet School, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and the School of American Ballet. At the age of 16, I was offered a contract with the New York City Ballet.

Is there someone in particular who has influenced your career?

My amazing parents, my incredible wife Gillian, every dancer I shared the stage with, and are you ready for this… my motorcycles.

What advice would you like to give young people aspiring to a career in dance?

Listen and learn from others, but always stay true to yourself and your own artistic ideas.

How have your experiences as a dancer complemented your talent as a choreographer?

I was fortunate enough to have danced with so many companies on different continents and to have danced a very large and diverse amount of repertoire and styles both on stage and on film. These experiences, coupled with the fact that I have always sought to be my own artist, give my work unique, authentic, and entertaining perspectives. I like to think that my work has an “accessible sophistication” that can be enjoyed whether you are a balletomane or a casual theater patron.

Tell us a little about the challenges of your role as Artistic Director of ARB.

The biggest challenge is navigating the fact that you won’t please all people all the time.

We are excited about the upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by ARB at NBPAC. What would you like audiences to know?

I guess I would like audiences to know that it is presented in an engaging 65-70-minute format and will be a distinctively magical and entertaining production for all ages. A production that keeps true to the essence of the Shakespeare tale, yet I believe presents many original ideas and fresh perspectives in both the staging, designs, and the choreography. I really love that we will also have fun activities for kids throughout the run like elf and fairy face painting and a real live donkey visiting us on the opening night!

Can you share with us some of your plans for the future of American Repertory Ballet?

Plans include a continuing investment in new productions and new voices and an ongoing commitment to fostering the presentation of diverse makers, movement, and modalities in ballet and dance. Essentially creating a culture and identity that is exclusively ARB, with the purpose of promoting inclusion, inspiration, and involvement.

Anything else, absolutely anything you’d like BWW NJ readers to know?

With the state of the world being what it is, I think it is important to believe, and ARB’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream truly supports this idea, that love, and laughter does prevail.

Move Closer to Your Career Goals at Princeton Ballet School This Summer

Pointe Magazine | January 21, 2022

For five weeks every summer, the university town of Princeton, New Jersey, becomes a destination for ballet students from around the world. As the official school of American Repertory Ballet, Princeton Ballet School’s summer intensive is designed for advanced students, ages 13 and up, to polish their technique and performance skills. And because students in the intensive are also considered for the school’s year-round trainee program—the direct feeder into ARB’s second company, ARB 2—the intensive is ideal for post–high-school students looking to launch their professional careers.

A Training Destination for Local and International Dancers Alike

As an educational institution certified to provide F-1 visas, Princeton Ballet School has the ability to accept international students from nearly anywhere in the world for its summer intensive, trainee program and ARB2. “Students come to us from across the local region, the U.S. and other countries, such as Japan, Italy and Brazil, creating a wonderful opportunity for dancers to learn from each other technically, artistically and culturally,” says Julie Diana Hench, ARB/PBS executive director who oversees the summer program in collaboration with Princeton Ballet School director Aydmara Cabrera and summer intensive coordinator Carol Bellis.

When current ARB company member Jonathan Montepara attended the summer intensive in 2019, it was his first experience training outside his native Italy. Being among other international students in the program made adjusting to dancing in another country much easier. “I knew I wasn’t the only student who spoke another language,” he says, “which helped me develop the strength to show up fully as who I am when I was dancing.”

Cici Yu, a young Asian woman, is photographed midair with her right leg in second and her left tucked under her. She is wearing tights, pointe shoes and a light blue leotard.

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

Princeton Ballet School’s program is structured to help students get comfortable with stepping outside their comfort zones. Montepara, who was 19 when he attended the intensive, says, “I really wanted to get out of myself and do something different when I came here. I loved being able to shift between styles so quickly for the first time.” Aside from rigorous daily ballet training, Montepara was challenged with other styles, like musical theater, character dance and Graham technique.

Students are also exposed to a dynamic range of ballet technique and training styles, thanks to the PBS faculty, whose professional experience spans the globe. The roster of faculty includes former principal dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Naciónal de Cuba, Boston Ballet and Russian National Ballet.

Up-Close With Company Members

ARB company dancers, under the leadership of artistic director Ethan Stiefel and artistic associate Gillian Murphy, supplement the PBS faculty, teaching classes during the intensive and often taking classes alongside the students. Montepara remembers how inspiring it was to watch them while he was in the program. “You could tell the difference between the professional dancers and the students right away by their approach and refinement,” he says.

Intensive students are also given the opportunity to dialogue with company members and learn more about what professional life is like. Last year during an event led by ARB’s rehearsal director, Ian Hussey, “company dancers performed new choreography in the studio and spoke with students about being a professional, creating new work and the creative process,” says Hench. “We also offered a virtual ‘open house’ for new students in the trainee program, inviting them to meet current dancers, observe class or rehearsals and see excerpts from recent performances.”

A young male dancer, in a white shirt and black tights, photographed in sauté middair with his back leg in attitude.

Inside the Creative Process

The five-week intensive concludes with a performance of all-new work, which gives students an opportunity to experience a professional rehearsal process. Montepara recalls working with Cabrera on an original pas de deux set to Rachmaninoff for the final show. “She showed me what it was like to work closely with a choreographer and experience the process of having something created on you. It was really hard and intense, but at the same time it taught us to trust ourselves, our technique and what we had learned throughout the program.”

This summer, the performance will be held for a public audience in Princeton, on an outdoor stage with sprung Harlequin floors.

Students will also have the option to attend the intensive in person, following pandemic precautions, or participate online. Virtual students can be considered for Princeton Ballet School’s trainee program, as well.

In-person auditions for the intensive will continue in cities across the country through February 13. U.S. and international students can attend a virtual audition or submit an application video. More details and the pre-registration form can be found here. With questions, contact summer intensive coordinator Carol Bellis [email protected].

Gillian Murphy to Appear in The Nutcracker

November 23, 2021 | New Jersey Stage

World-Renowned Ballerina Gillian Murphy to Appear in American Repertory Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

Gillian Murphy – courtesy of NYC Dance Project

Celebrating a return to stages this holiday season, American Repertory Ballet (ARB) is has announced that world-renowned ballerina Gillian Murphy will appear as the Sugar Plum Fairy in ARB’s The Nutcracker. Ms. Murphy will perform on Saturday, November 27th at 7:30pm at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton.

“What an incredible opportunity for local audiences to experience Gillian’s artistry firsthand, and for Princeton Ballet School students to be inspired onstage – and backstage – by her technical brilliance, warmth and generosity, ” says Executive Director Julie Diana Hench.

A principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Ms. Murphy’s repertoire include leading and iconic roles in ABT’s current full-length classics and in shorter works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Jiri Kylian, Antony Tudor, William Forsythe, Martha Graham, Lar Lubovitch, Paul Taylor, Frederick Ashton and Agnes de Mille.

In addition to her work with ABT, Ms. Murphy has the distinction of being American Repertory Ballet’s first-ever Artistic Associate, a position made possible by Lewis and Genevieve Geyser.

Gillian Murphy was raised in Florence, South Carolina and received her high school education and advanced dance training under the tutelage of Melissa Hayden at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. As a teenager, she was awarded the Prix de Lausanne Espoir, and she joined American Ballet Theatre in 1996. After being honored with a Princess Grace Foundation Award, Ms. Murphy was promoted to Soloist in 1999 and to Principal Dancer in 2002. She starred as Odette/Odile in ABT’s PBS television production of Swan Lake and as Giselle in the New Zealand Film Commission’s movie of Stiefel and Kobborg production of Giselle at the Royal New Zealand Ballet, where she was a Principal Guest Artist for three years.

In 2009, Ms. Murphy was the recipient of a Princess Grace Statue Award, the organization’s highest honor. In 2014, she received an Honorary Doctorate in the Performing Arts from UNCSA. In 2018, Ms. Murphy graduated summa cum laude from St. Mary’s College of California with a Bachelor of Arts. In 2019, she successfully completed the Harvard Business School’s “Crossover into Business” program for professional athletes.

Performances of The Nutcracker kick off at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, November 26th through 28th, and continue through December with stops at the Union County Performing Arts Center, the Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, and State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick.

The Nutcracker tells the magical story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince as they battle toy soldiers and larger-than-life mice, and travel through a whirlwind of dancing snowflakes to the Land of Sweets. Greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, Clara enjoys a suite of brilliant and joyful dances before opening her eyes to the familiar sights of her own home. Was it all a dream?

A holiday tradition for nearly 60 years, American Repertory Ballet’s The Nutcracker is one of the longest, continuously running Nutcracker productions in the nation. For more information, visit arballet.org or call 609. 921.7758.

COVID-19 Health and Safety Measures: The health and safety of our audiences, artists, and staff are of the utmost importance. All patrons attending a performance must show proof of vaccination via a vaccine card, or through NJ’s Docket App, or show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within *72 hours of the performance. Please check each venue’s website for more information.

Patrons are required to wear masks at all times while inside the venue regardless of  vaccination status. This policy includes children older than age 2.  *McCarter Theatre requests a proof of negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 36 hours of the performance*

The mission of American Repertory Ballet is to bring the joy, beauty, artistry and discipline of classical and contemporary dance to New Jersey and nationwide audiences and to students through artistic and educational programs. Founded as the Princeton Ballet Society in 1954, the organization now comprises: the preeminent professional ballet company in the state; Princeton Ballet School, one of the most established non-profit dance schools in the nation; and ARB’s Access & Enrichment initiatives, including the long-running and acclaimed DANCE POWER program. In July 2021, ARB welcomed its new Artistic Director, Ethan Stiefel.

PHOTO: Gillian Murphy – courtesy of NYC Dance Project