Stella Abrera, the first Filipino American principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, has retired after 24 years with the classical ballet company.
Under coronavirus-free circumstances, 42-year-old Abrera’s farewell performance would have been the title role of “Giselle” at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on June 13.
“I always thought my heart would break on this day, and it’s true that it does ache, but I see now that it’s because my heart is so full—it’s bursting with love and gratitude for everyone who has made this twisty, exhilarating, colorful journey I’ve been on, one of which dreams are made,” Abrera wrote in an Instagram post on Monday, June 15. “ABT will forever be in my heart—thank you and farewell.”
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Thank you all so much for the outpouring of support and love over these last few days. It has been overwhelmingly moving and I don’t have words to express the magnitude of my appreciation. There’s a lifetime of memories to cherish, and so many people to whom I’m indebted for making my life and career at @abtofficial so fulfilling. You all know who you are, and as soon as I can, I coming for you with a big bear hug!!! I always thought my heart would break on this day, and it’s true that it does ache, but I see now that it’s because my heart is so full—it’s bursting with love and gratitude for everyone who has made this twisty, exhilarating, colorful journey I’ve been on, one of which dreams are made. ABT will forever be in my heart—thank you and farewell ❤️ Stella
Her last performance with the company was “Giselle” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in February.
Abrera was named artistic director for Kaatsbaan, a cultural park for dance in Tivoli, New York, earlier this year.
“As the artistic director of Kaatsbaan, I began a summer coaching and training initiative for young professional dancers in the ranks of apprentice to year five corps de ballet. This demographic is kind of a waiting area. They’re paying their dues. I offer two weeks for a small group to work on the pas de deux and solos that they don’t really get to work on during their season. I ask them to choose one dream role, like Juliet or Odette/Odile, and then I also ask them to pick a solo that’s within the realm of their next possible step, such as the Swan Lake pas de trois,” she told Dance Magazine in a recent interview.
The youngest of five children, Abrera and her family moved from the Philippines to South Pasadena, California when she was 4 years old. A year later, she took her first ballet class and has been dancing ever since.
The family moved often because of her father’s work as a civil engineer, which also brought them to San Diego and Sydney, Australia.
She began her studies with Philip and Charles Fuller and Cynthia Young at Le Studio in Pasadena and continued it at the West Coast Ballet Theatre in San Diego when they moved there. She also spent three years studying the Royal Academy of Dancing method with Joan and Monica Halliday at the Halliday Dance Centre in Sydney.
In 1996 at the age of 17, she joined the ABT as a member of the corps de ballet after being an apprentice for a few months. Five years later, she was promoted as a soloist.
“I am so lucky. I had this dream to be a ballerina when I was a little girl and I grew up and became one. Not everyone has that luck, timing wise, but I worked hard and I am grateful,” Abrera said in 2016, as reported by the Asian Journal.
The Fil-Am dancer suffered a crippling back injury in 2010 that threatened to end her blossoming career and sidelined her for 18 months. She returned to the stage and got injured again before recovering and taking the stage six months later.
Abrera debuted in the title role of “Giselle” in 2015 after she filled in for an injured dancer. She then made history when she ascended to a principal dancer role soon after, becoming the first person of Filipino descent to reach the elite ballet company’s highest rank.
“To be honest, it’s mostly the feeling of responsibility, to help inspire the next generation of dancers not only Filipinos but all of them. It warms my heart to see these young Filipina dancers on social media saying that I inspire them. That’s very heartwarming, and it’s a responsibility that I am happy to take on,” she previously told the Asian Journal.