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Photo: Sophie Elgort, courtesy Lafayette 148.
Stella Abrera grew up in South Pasadena, California, and began her ballet studies at the age of five. In 1996, after winning the gold medal at the Adeline Genée Awards, she joined American Ballet Theatre’s corps de ballet. She was promoted to Soloist in 2001 and Principal Dancer in 2015. Over the course of her 24 years as a ballerina with ABT, Abrera’s repertoire included leading roles such as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Tatiana in Onegin, and the title roles in Cinderella, Giselle, and Romeo and Juliet, as well as works by Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, William Forsythe, Martha Graham, Jiří Kylián, Jessica Lang, Kenneth MacMillan, Lar Lubovitch, Cathy Marston, Benjamin Millepied, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, and Christopher Wheeldon. She created several original roles in ballets by choreographers such as Mark Morris, Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp, and Paul Taylor.
As a repetiteur of Alexei Ratmansky’s work, Abrera has staged ballets for the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, American Ballet Theatre, and ABT Studio Company. She teaches regularly for ABT and ABT Studio Company.
In June 2020, Abrera retired as a performer with ABT and was appointed Artistic Director of Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, New York.
Abrera’s work at Kaatsbaan included creating, teaching, and overseeing a rigorous and varied curriculum of classes, repertoire workshops, and performances for the Kaatsbaan Ballet Intensive. She consistently attracted a roster of guest instructors from among the most widely respected educators, principal dancers, and ballet figures in the field. She taught select students privately year-round and directed biannual choreography workshops with Gemma Bond, Hope Boykin, and Amy Hall Garner.
Abrera was part of the visionary team that launched the annual Kaatsbaan Summer Festival and spearheaded the “bubble residency” model, providing scores of artists a safe location in which to continue working throughout the pandemic. Companies such as ABT, ABT Studio Company, A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham, American Repertory Ballet, CoLab, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dorrance Dance, Duncan Lyle Dance, KW Creative, Limón Dance Co., Mark Morris Dance Group, Martha Graham Dance Co., MJ The Musical with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, New York City Ballet, and Sonya Tayeh Dance worked in residence or were presented at the Kaatsbaan Festivals.
Abrera’s charity work includes founding Steps Forward for the Philippines, an organization that partnered with Operation USA to rebuild an elementary school in the wake of 2013’s Super Typhoon Haiyan. She cofounded Artists for Aveni, to benefit the Aveni Foundation’s mission to cure cancer. She also curated, directed, and danced in a series of galas in Manila in 2018 and 2019 to benefit the gifted but economically disadvantaged Filipino children of CENTEX elementary schools. As a result, the Stella Abrera Dance and Music Hall was built in the Philippine province of Batangas. She frequently performed in charity galas for Dancers Responding to Aids and Dance Against Cancer.
Abrera has appeared as a guest principal dancer at The Australian Ballet, Ballet Philippines, The Royal New Zealand Ballet, The Washington Ballet, and in international galas. She performed at the TED2012 conference and at the 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2017.
Her awards and nominations include a California State Senate recognition for contributions to the performing arts (2015), Woman of the Year recognition from the Philippine Consulate General in New York (2016), New York State Assembly recognition for service to the community (2017), and a Benois de la Danse nomination for her performance in The Sleeping Beauty (2017). In 2021, Abrera’s pointe shoes were featured as part of a White House exhibit by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History honoring Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month.
Abrera studied at Long Island University and Harvard University’s “Crossover into Business” program and participated in the 2020 DanceEast Rural Retreat.
In 2022, Abrera was named Acting Artistic Director of the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.