The Royal New Zealand Ballet's production of Giselle is all set to be translated to the silver screen as its one-time ballet bad boy director settles down.
Artistic director Ethan Stiefel has retired from the stage but has no plans to hang up his ballet shoes - or park his motorbike - just yet, he tells Talia Shadwell.
Coming face-to-face with Ethan Stiefel provokes an internal struggle for a ballet nut of a certain age.
Don't mention Center Stage, hisses an inner voice. You are not a 13-year-old girl.
The topic; his upcoming feature length adaptation of Giselle, shot in collaboration with visiting Danish choreographer Johann Kobborg and New Zealand director Toa Fraser.
The setting; Stiefel's Wellington office at the Royal New Zealand Ballet's St James Theatre home, high above Courtenay Pl.
He could not be further from the bright lights, from Center Stage, - practically the "South Pole," according to a New York Times aghast at the departure of a prodigal son.
"Of course, you have experience in film."
More of a declaration than a question, eyebrows to hairline, pen held a-quiver.
But Stiefel is a gracious interviewee. Casual in trackpants and sipping mineral water, he is at ease with a year at the helm of New Zealand's premier ballet company under his belt. Bike-riding ballet bad-ass Cooper Nielson he is not.
Now engaged to prima ballerina and RNZB guest principal artist Gillian Murphy, Stiefel's heart-breaker alter-ego of the 2000 dance-flick is long behind him.
But he does not forget the star power with which "that ballet movie" anointed him.
After all, Center Stage put Stiefel on the map beyond the ballet world. And now his adoptive home, New Zealand, is reaping the benefits.
"I'm not someone who likes to toot my own horn but I am proud of the career I have had," he says. "The movies, the profile . . .and if that profile works to the benefit of the company I would like to think it does have a positive contribution to make toward the Royal New Zealand Ballet in the future."
Whisked away from his position as dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina's School of the Arts to our little capital, Stiefel says he is in it for the long run.
"It is a huge jump and I do miss friends and family and certain things I am familiar with. I came in here to embrace my new homeland and what it has to offer and hopefully to make a contribution to New Zealand arts and culture."
In his time, Pennsylvania-born Stiefel trained alongside eminent male dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and the late Rudolf Nureyev.
In July Stiefel announced his retirement from the stage after more than 20 years in the spotlight, beginning at the New York City Ballet aged 16.
Giselle's romantic lead, Albrecht, was a watershed role in his career. So, surely it pains him just a little to bid farewell to the stage so as to guide someone else through the steps?
"You know, I suppose I will always, in a certain way, wish it were me because I love dancing. But the time came when it was absolutely the right time to step away from the stage and give that up - athletically, as well as artistically and emotionally.
"But I have to say it is very rewarding for me to see the people that you give direction and courage and guidance to taking all of those things on board, processing it and being able to present it in the vision that you have in their own individual way."
Teamed with Kobborg for this season's production of Giselle, the pair envisaged a "contemporary sheen" for the grand old lady.
Introducing her to the big screen, for the RNZB's first feature film, required an innovative take on a ballet steeped in tradition.
"Certainly, we had the traditional ballet in mind, but we thought [about it] maybe in a less cliched way and a more naturalistic way, in keeping with the essence of what makes it a beautiful ballet," Stiefel explains.
"It wasn't about reinventing the wheel, it was about moving it forward aesthetically, dramatically, with some of the technical ballet movements that would resonate to an audience in 2012."
While Murphy has been cast in the title role, Stiefel has seized upon the chance to furnish the cast with young soloists, sticking to his line that he wants to develop the company, and halt its high turnover of young dancers.
"I think this production is a great example of how to give people roles that, first of all, are suitable and show the dancers off in the best light.
"To take some young dancers and give them a role that develops their careers, their characterisations, their role play, their onstage persona, as well as the development of the partnering skills and virtuosic parts of the ballet technique."
But after spending a year in New Zealand, Stiefel has gained familiarity with the brain-drain phenomenon.
"One of my primary purposes is to make dancers better, and when you make dancers better they become more attractive to other companies.
"That is also then kind of a testament to that I am doing a good job - in the sense of if I develop young talent it's up to them to spread their wings and go away - I have to respect that . . . but certainly, the best interest of the RNZB is to keep them here."
In turning the ballet world's gaze to our shores, Stiefel acknowledges the ever-present threat that he himself may be poached.
"I suppose if I do a good job that's the nature of any business, I guess, but right now I'm just fully committed and invested in the RNZB. You can ask anybody, 24-7, [I am] rolling up my sleeves and giving it everything I have."
In the meantime, he is happy taking in the sights.
"I think what we love about Wellington is that in 15 minutes you can walk to different areas with all the different bars and restaurants, down by Oriental Parade to walk through the Botanical gardens.
"We just love the convenience of being able to walk everywhere, enjoy good food."
Yes, bad boy Cooper Nielson turned nice. He's got the girl and has settled down. There's just one more feature that would make his life in his adoptive home that little bit better. "I miss my bike. I have to be completely honest.
"Hopefully, in about six months or so I am going to wrap my head around either getting a motorcycle or shipping the one I had from the States over here and starting to enjoy the beautiful landscape the country has to offer."
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