Stella Abrera: A heart for the homeland

Stella Abrera and JooWon Ahn in “Don Quixote.” Photo by Jojo Mamangun/ABT

Stella Abrera and JooWon Ahn in “Don Quixote.” Photo by Jojo Mamangun/ABT

By April Deocariza

Some of America’s biggest names in ballet performed on the Philippine stage on April 6-7 in a gala curated by none other than Stella Abrera, the first Filipino American to reach the top rank of principal dancer at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.

The program, entitled “An Intimate Evening with Stella Abrera & American Ballet Stars” benefited CENTEX (Center of Excellence in Public Elementary Education), Ayala Foundation’s flagship program providing holistic, quality education for economically disadvantaged children.

The idea for a gala came about two years ago after Abrera was introduced to Sofia Zobel Elizalde, former dancer for Ballet Philippines and founder of Steps Dance Studio in Manila.

“Sofia is a strong advocate for the arts, as well as education,” explained Abrera during a phone interview from ABT’s Broadway studios. “We became fast friends and were talking about how amazing it would be to one day put together a show. When I learned that ABT was going on an Asia tour and that we would be getting a two-week break afterwards, I got on the phone with Sofia and said, ‘This is our opportunity’. She was totally game.”

For Abrera, who has performed on some of the most famous stages in the world from Hollywood to Paris, this particular show was a homecoming.

“It’s the country of my heritage,” said the Manila-born Abrera. “I definitely have my Filipino roots that are very intertwined in my family. I have a lot of extended family in the Philippines that have never seen me perform, so it was really cool to have them be there.”

It has been a long and illustrious career thus far, which has taken Abrera around the globe. Raised in South Pasadena, California, Abrera began dancing at the age of 5. She spent three years studying the Royal Academy of Dancing method at the Halliday Dance Centre in Sydney, Australia. After receiving the Gold Medal at the Royal Academy of Dancing’s Adeline Genee Awards in London, she joined ABT’s corps de ballet in 1996. Abrera climbed the ladder performing leading roles in ballets such as “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Symphonic Variations,” and “Afternoon of a Faun.” In 2015, she was promoted to the coveted rank of principal dancer. Her exquisite lines, ethereal grace and passionate depiction of roles are unmatched, but what truly sets Abrera apart is her heart for giving back to her homeland.

Stella with Sofia Elizalde (right) and Marion Branellec of Jewelmer. Photo: ABT

Stella with Sofia Elizalde (left) and Marion Branellec of Jewelmer. Photo: ABT

This wasn’t the first time Abrera has traveled to the Philippines for charity. In 2014, she partnered with Operation USA to form Steps Forward for the Philippines, a charitable fund dedicated to providing educational supplies to school children in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, the town hardest hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan. After a special performance of “Giselle” with Ballet Philippines, Abrera flew to Guiuan to meet with the children and distribute supplies.

In this latest trip, Abrera and her husband, retired ABT soloist Sascha Radetsky, taught master classes to CENTEX’s students. The students were also given the unique opportunity to perform alongside Abrera and her fellow stars during the gala, something Abrera specifically requested.

“Visiting the CENTEX school in Tondo was the coolest part of the trip,” said Abrera. “These kids were so full of joy and big dreams. To see the light on their faces, that’s something every kid should have, not just those born on the right side of the tracks. To know that CENTEX helps these kids who are gifted, it’s amazing.”

Next up for Abrera are rehearsals for ABT’s spring season at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, which opens on May 14.

“Every year, we put on eight productions in eight weeks. We’re on the grand stage of The Met which is our main home in New York, so it’s all very meaningful this time of year.”
Meaningful indeed, particularly as Abrera will be performing the lead role of Juliet in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet on June 14.

“It’s the jewel of my season, if not my career,” she said. “I’ve performed many different parts in this ballet after being in the company for so long. It carries so much weight for me and to bring it to The Met, it’s monumental.”

Abrera celebrated her 20th anniversary with ABT in 2016, and the sky is still the limit for this ballerina.

“Right now, I’m doing as much as I can to train myself for the next step. I’m hoping the path will become illuminated sometime soon but until then, I’m going to keep dancing and doing what I do. If I can keep connecting the arts and philanthropy, I would love to do that.”

April Deocariza is a Southern California native. She worked for 10 years at New York public relations firm, Emanate PR, before returning to her first passion, writing. Her stories have appeared in the Press-Enterprise newspaper and Blessed Is She.

(C) The FilAm 2018

Receiving gifts of papier-mâché pointe shoes from CENTEX students. Photo: ABT

Receiving gifts of papier-mâché pointe shoes from CENTEX students. Photo: ABT

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