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.