NZ Ballet secures 'rock star' pair

16:00, Oct 29 2010
Ethan Stiefel
GIANT LEAP: Top American ballet dancer Ethan Stiefel in Prodigal Son. He is to be the Royal New Zealand Ballet's next artistic director

Two of the biggest names in the dance world are moving to Wellington in an unprecedented coup by the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

American dancer Ethan Stiefel will become the company's next artistic director, replacing Englishman Gary Harris, who finishes in December.

Stiefel, who trained alongside Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, will be accompanied by his partner, Gillian Murphy. Both are principal dancers with American Ballet Theatre  the United States' national ballet company. In ballet circles, the pair have rock star status and are celebrities in the US. They are due to make guest appearances next month on television drama Gossip Girl.

The Los Angeles Times this year praised Murphy, 31, in Sleeping Beauty as the "redheaded vixen of a dancer with a peaches-and-cream complexion, a bow-tie mouth and sturdy American legs ... She's Scarlett O'Hara on pointes". The New York Times ranked her as "one of the most exciting ballerinas of her young generation".

Stiefel, 37, a dean of the School of Dance at University of North Carolina School of Arts, has performed with leading companies, including the Kirov Ballet, and has starred in movies, among them Center Stage in 2000.

While the Royal NZ Ballet was rapt with Stiefel's appointment, it had been unclear whether Murphy would perform with the company. However, Stiefel confirmed exclusively to The Dominion Post that she will dance here.

"Gillian and I committed to coming to Wellington and the [Royal NZ Ballet] together. Because of this fact, she will have a consistent performing presence with the company, while maintaining the key guesting and [American Ballet Theatre] engagements a ballerina of her stature should be doing at this point in her career. Perhaps, this is even bigger news than my becoming artistic director."

Ballet company general manager Amanda Skoog said: "This is a huge coup. Ethan is one of the most talented dancers currently performing in the world, but on top of that, he's a fantastic teacher."

Stiefel starts in September and will decide what shows the Royal NZ Ballet will stage.

The last Kiwi to hold the post was Bryan Ashbridge in 1971, but Stiefel has a Kiwi connection. His grandmother was born and raised in Christchurch and he has relatives in Invercargill and Manapouri.

"Whether I come from another country or not, I am on board and fully committed to doing the best that I possibly can for the [Royal NZ Ballet], the art form and for New Zealand's culture and society," Stiefel said.

He also said he did not rule out dancing in New Zealand. "If there is an appropriate opportunity, it would be fantastic ... "

Gossip Girl ballet
ROCK STARS: Top American dancers Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel, centre, play themselves in an episode of television drama Gossip Girl in the US next month.

Ethan Stiefel (37)

Starred in 2000 movie Center Stage and the later Center Stage 2 – Turn It Up, which broadened his popularity outside dance.

Born in Pennsylvania and began dance training at age eight in Madison, Wisconsin. Grandmother is from Christchurch and he has relatives in Invercargill and Manapouri.


Trained alongside Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Landed his first professional job at age 16 with New York City Ballet, and quickly rose to rank of principal.

Principal dancer with Zurich Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and performed with Royal Ballet, Kirov Ballet and others.

At present is a dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Gillian Murphy (31)

Highly regarded in ballet circles and rated as one of the best dancers of her generation.

Born and raised in South Carolina, and began her ballet training at the age of three.

By 16 she won the Prix de Lausanne Espoir after performing the final round at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

The following year she joined the United States national ballet company American Ballet Theatre and was promoted to soloist in 1999 and principal dancer in 2002.

Guest artist in Japan, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Canada and throughout the US. Made her debut with the Kirov Ballet in 2008 as Odette-Odile in Swan Lake.

Performing The Bright Stream and Swan Lake with American Ballet Theatre next year before moving to Wellington.


The Dominion Post