Ethan Stiefel (born 13 February 1973 in Tyrone, Pennsylvania) is an American dancer, choreographer, and director. He was a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) from 1997 till July 2012. He was the artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet from 2011 to 2014. His wife is Gillian Murphy, also a principal dancer with ABT.
Early life and training
He is the only son of a Lutheran minister who became a prison warden in New York; their last name is pronounced "Stee-fell" and is German for "boot."
Stiefel began ballet training in Madison, Wisconsin at the Monona Academy of Dance at age eight. He became involved with classical dance through his older sister, who was taking a class. Before that, both he and his sister took gymnastics classes. His first ballet teacher, Jo Jean Retrum, was interested in getting Ethan to take class because boys in ballet are a rarity. He studied for two years at the Milwaukee Ballet School under Ted Kivitt and Paul Sutherland, and at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet before moving to New York City to attend the School of American Ballet on scholarship.
While there, Stanley Williams enrolled him in the company's men's special class where he trained alongside Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Fernando Bujones. He studied with Baryshnikov himself at the short lived Mikhail Baryshnikov's School of Classical Ballet.
He started his dancing career in 1989, when he joined the corps de ballet of New York City Ballet at age 16. In 1992, he took a leave of absence to perform with the Zürich Ballet, under directorship of Bernd R. Bienert, but returned to NYCB a year later as a soloist. By 1995, he was a principal dancer with the company. He ended his tenure with NYCB in April 1997 when he joined ABT as a principal dancer, from which he retired in 2012. He danced with the short-lived Mikhail Baryshnikov School of Classical Ballet at ABT. His dance repertoire includes many key romantic roles in both classical and contemporary ballet.
He won a silver medal at the Prix de Lausanne in 1989 and also received a Princess Grace Foundation-USA grant in 1991. In 1998, Stiefel was nominated for the Benois de la Danse award as one of the rising stars in ballet. In 2007, Stiefel made his debut with the Australian Ballet in Nureyev's staging of Don Quixote, for its Melbourne and Sydney seasons, in the role of Basilio. In 2008, Stiefel was a recipient of the Dance Magazine Award along with Pina Bausch, Sylvia Walters, and Lawrence Rhodes for his role as a leader in the dance field.
Stiefel has appeared as a guest artist with many companies throughout his career including the Mariinsky Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Australian Ballet, Zurich Ballet, Munich Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, New National Ballet in Tokyo, and Teatro Colón Ballet in Buenos Aires. He gave his final performance as an ABT principal dancer on July 7, 2012, at the Metropolitan Opera House, as Ali the slave in Le Corsaire. He is widely considered right now to be currently "the greatest male ballet dancer in the world or "the most advanced male ballet dancer in the world".
Directing and Teaching
In 2004, he created a four-week workshop, Stiefel & Students, for aspiring dancers where dance students train and perform with professional ballet dancers. It is held annually on Martha's Vineyard in the month of August. The program accepts students aged 12 to 18. Its rollcall of star guest teachers include Stiefel, Johan Kobborg, Amanda McKerrow, Elizabeth Parkinson, Scott Wise, Marcelo Gomes, John Gardner, Gary Chryst, Ann Reinking, and Alina Cojocaru. The program has been on hiatus since 2008.
In late 2005, Ballet Pacifica, based in Irvine, California, named him as its artistic director with the aim to relaunch itself as a higher-profile ballet company. However, after the company failed to raise the funds necessary to support their new vision, its executive director resigned followed by Stiefel himself in April 2006.
He was formerly the dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem where he also choreographed a new production of The Nutcracker.
In November 2010 Stiefel was announced as the next director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. He took up that position in September 2011. Stiefel expanded the international profile of the company, programmed new works, created a one-act ballet Bierhalle, and choreographed a production of Giselle. In March 2014, Stiefel announced that he would not extend his contract with the Royal New Zealand Ballet and would return to the United States.
Television and Movie Appearances
In 2000, he starred in the film Center Stage, directed by Nicholas Hytner with original choreography by Susan Stroman and featuring Amanda Schull. He also starred in the sequels Center Stage: Turn It Up and Center Stage: On Pointe. Center Stage features a subplot in which Stiefel's character garners the financial support of a flirtatious female philanthropist (played by Elizabeth Hubbard). A New York Times article entitled "How Much Is That Dancer in the Program?" revealed that Stiefel has a similar real-life sponsorship relationship with wealthy philanthropist Anka Palitz.
In 2007 he appeared in the movie, Born to Be Wild - The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre with Angel Corella, Jose Manuel Carreno and Vladimir Malakhov directed by Judy Kinberg.
In 2007, Stiefel appeared in an episode of Queer Eye to meet a "straight guy" who considers Stiefel his "idol." In 2010 he appeared as himself in season 4, episode 8 of Gossip Girl with Murphy.
He is an avid motorcyclist. He grew up riding dirt bikes, currently owns a Harley-Davidson Wide Glide and once drove 5600 kilometres across the north-eastern US with Gillian Murphy riding pillion. He is also a Green Bay Packers fan. He proposed to Murphy, his longtime girlfriend, in May 2011, after they performed in ABT's spring gala. They were married in September 2015. They have an Abyssinian cat called Selah.
- "American ballet, for me, is Stanley Williams."
- "Baryshnikov was and is my idol. He's the man. He was someone I've looked up to all throughout my life."
- "I enjoy what I do, so why not just go about it in a good way, a positive way he muses. I dont concern myself with becoming a star. I just go out there and try to give an honest performance and if, when I get offstage, I'm a complete schmuck, then that's me."
- "When I'm done with ballet, I'd just like to work on motorcycles. I have two."
- "I actually quit ballet when I was 14. I had just gotten a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, but it was so far away and there was no other school I liked nearby."
- "But then my father was transferred to New York, and ... I knew this was it. I saw the bright lights, big city, the professional companies and great dancers. I was in a great school and knew that this was serious business and I had to do it."
- "Dancing exacts a toll. I don't dance for applause. But there have definitely been moments, when I've been injured, when I say to myself, 'To come back to this, is it really worth it. It's just tough. It takes so much out of you physically and there's a lot of stress involved. Emotionally, it can drain you. I travel around a lot and it's great, it's exciting, but I don't see any of it. I do my shows and I'm off to the next place."