Equal Time for Stella Abrera

Stella Abrera Joseph Gorak
Stella Abrera and Joseph Gorak in Ashton’s Cinderella, photo by MIRA

There’s been plenty of hoopla over Misty Copeland’s promotion at American Ballet Theatre. Deservedly so. Misty has broken through a racial barrier in ballet and her Swan Lake was a triumph. It made the front page of The New York Times, it lit up Twitter and Facebook. Since her promotion tapped into larger issues, Dance Magazine’s Jennifer Stahl posted a comment addressing “What Misty’s Promotion Means for Dancers.”

But let’s not forget the other promotion to principal: Stella Abrera. She’s not the first Asian-American principal—I think that distinction went to Sono Osato in 1941. But what is more to the point is that she has been in the company for 19 years. That must be some kind of record. She had more than her share of injuries that kept setting her back. Through it all, her dancing has been superb in a wide variety of roles. She brings an openness of the upper body that speaks of sweetness, nobility and compassion. I always care about the character she portrays, whether it’s the Lilac Fairy, Lady Capulet, one of the six dancers in Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas or, most recently Cinderella. (So sorry I had to miss her Giselle, for which she received a “delirious standing ovation.”)

Her husband (and Dance Magazine contributor), Sascha Radetsky, wrote an inspired Facebook entry congratulating her. Here’s a quote: “Stella’s is a quiet, steady excellence, born of humility, graciousness, a fearsome work ethic, and—hell yeah—a massive dose of talent. And now it is formally recognized. I am so proud and happy.”

The compassion Abrera exudes onstage is also active offstage. Last fall she performed Giselle in the Philippines as part of an effort to raise money for communities hardest hit by the typhoon there.

While trying to think of a word that describes her particularly luminous dancing, I came across this news clip that interviews her parents, Filipino immigrants in Pasadena. In it, her dancing is described as “angelic.” Yup, I’ll take angelic.

Here’s to next season, when we will see much more of both Stella and Misty.