Weekend Plan: Famed Ballet Star Ethan Stiefel Brings Giselle to L.A.'s Music Center

Royal New Zealand Ballet Giselle - H 2014
Courtesy of Evan Li

Royal New Zealand Ballet Giselle - H 2014

The Royal New Zealand Ballet artistic director, who starred on the big screen in Center Stage, brings his smash production of Giselle to downtown Los Angeles Jan. 31 to Feb. 2

When Ethan Stiefel retired from American Ballet Theatre in 2012, some envisioned a slow fade from the spotlight as the 38-year-old dancer transitioned from center stage to a job Down Under as artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Instead his post-dance career is thriving with consulting and choreography work on the upcoming Starz series, Flesh and Bone, which takes place in the world of dance, and his current production of Giselle, which takes over the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles for four performances running Jan. 31 through Feb. 2.

Already a hit production in New Zealand, Giselle became an even bigger hit when it was filmed and screened in movie theaters throughout the country, bringing ballet to an audience that wouldn’t have otherwise seen it. “Dance on film is not an easy thing to capture,” Stiefel tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I think this production of Giselle leant itself to being cinematic.” Stiefel gained film experience after starring in the 2000 dance movie, Center Stage, and its sequel, Center Stage: Turn it Up.

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“Ballet does have a lot of rules. There’s a lot of etiquette so the angles, how one wants to shoot it to carry over the energy, is important,” he says.

For the stage production, Stiefel teamed with Johan Kobborg, a veteran of the Royal Danish Ballet and London’s Royal ballet, to choreograph Giselle building on the original work of Marius Petipa. Qi Huan will dance Albrecht and the lead will be performed by Stiefel’s long-time fiancee Gillian Murphy, who will make her U.S. debut Friday night in one of ballet’s most challenging roles.

“She’s such a fantastic dancer and is so generous and it makes my job easy,” says Stiefel. “The great thing is she’s completely invested and supportive of me and my choreography and I’m supportive of her dancing and wanting her to look good.”

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If dance on the big screen is a challenge, the small screen’s lack of scale and perspective presents even greater obstacles. The upcoming TV series Flesh and Bone will focus on a talented though emotionally troubled ballerina played by Sarah Hay, an American dancer with Semperoper Ballet in Dresden, Germany. Joining her in the cast will be American Ballet Theater’s Irina Dvorevenko, ABT soloist Sascha Radetsky and Raychel Diane Weiner of Ballet Arizona.

“They’re very adamant they didn’t want to use body doubles,” Stiefel says about producers Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad), Lawrence Bender (Inglorious Basterds), John Melfi (House of Cards) and Kevin Brown (Roswell). “My role is to make some really good dance scenes, some really good pieces and choreography that would live up to the talent of the professionals and would maintain the integrity of the art form understanding you need people to come back every week and want to see what happens in the next episode.”

Flesh and Bone will begin shooting in New York City in the coming months and will air on Starz in 2015. 

I realized, once I'm gone, that's going to be this director's vision from here on out. I did that in the past a lot, and now, giving all of that up is such a beautiful and relieving thing."