Stella Abrera, a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theater, has been named acting artistic director of the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the company announced on Thursday. Abrera will oversee all artistic aspects of the school’s children’s division, pre-professional division and national training curriculum.
Ballet Theater, Abrera said in a phone interview, “is like a big gorgeous redwood or oak tree. I now have the opportunity to be part of the team that will nourish the roots, and help it grow larger and more beautiful. I have such deep respect for the company’s lineage and I’m so excited to share that with young artists.”
The Onassis School, founded in 2004, has been directed by Cynthia Harvey, another Ballet Theater alumna, since 2016. Abrera said that she was waiting until she started the position to formulate specific plans, but that she hoped to follow Harvey’s example. “She has tiny feet but those are huge shoes to fill,” Abrera said.
Abrera, 44, who was born in Manila, grew up in South Pasadena, Calif. She joined Ballet Theater as a member of the corps de ballet in 1996 and was promoted to soloist in 2001. In 2015, Abrera was promoted to principal on the same day that Misty Copeland was, becoming the company’s first Filipino American principal. She retired from performing in 2020. Since June of that year, she has been the artistic director of Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, N.Y., establishing an annual outdoor dance festival there.
A Ballet Theater spokeswoman said Abrera was hired for a one-year acting position because of the changeover in Ballet Theater’s artistic directors — from Kevin McKenzie, who offered Abrera the position, to Susan Jaffe, who will take over at the end of this year. (The company has also recently appointed a new chief executive, Janet Rollé.)
At Kaatsbaan, Sonja Kostich, who became chief executive and artistic officer in 2018, will stay on in that role. No replacement for Abrera has yet been announced.
Speaking from outside a studio on Kaatsbaan’s idyllic grounds, watching a rehearsal of a project she helped put together, Abrera said that her emotions were “mixed” and that it felt a little bittersweet to leave. After the Kaatsbaan festival closes on June 19, she’ll be teaching in a two-month intensive ballet program. Then she will have one day off, Aug. 21, before she starts her new job.