Ballet Dancer Stella Abrera Says Yes to Champagne at Intermission, Scouts Out Vintage Chanel, and Strives for Balance

We asked the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School what she values in art and life.

Stella Abrera. Photo: Sophie Elgort, courtesy Lafayette 148.

So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in These Times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash?

What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level.

Stella Abrera (b. 1978) is a ballet boundary-breaker. The former principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Abrera was named the artistic director of the company’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School earlier this year. The remarkable achievement comes as the proverbial cherry on top of an already storied career.  

Abrera, who was born in Manila, and grew up in South Pasadena, California, began studying ballet at five years old. She joined the ABT corps de ballet in 1996, where she would ultimately dance for 24 years, becoming a soloist in 2001. In 2015, she was named principal dancer, notably becoming the first Filipino principal dancer in ABT’s prestigious history. Over her years with the ballet, she took the spotlight in the title roles of Cinderella, Giselle, and Romeo and Juliet, and in compositions by famed choreographers including George Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Martha Graham, and Christopher Wheeldon, among many others.  

Stella Abrera in ABT JKO School class. Photo: Olivia James.

Stella Abrera in ABT JKO School class. Photo: Olivia James.

Retiring from ABT in 2020, Abrera was soon appointed Artistic Director of Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, New York, where she took on initiatives including an acclaimed summer festival, before returning to the ABT family as acting artistic director in 2022.

Today, Abrera’s passions manifest in her love for teaching and nurturing the next generation of dancers, as well as in her many philanthropic efforts, including her two charities, Steps Forward for the Philippines, founded in response to 2013’s Super Typhoon Haiyan, as well as Artists for Aveni, to benefit the Aveni Foundation’s mission to cure cancer. 

When she does take a moment of leisure, Abrera has a taste for the finer things in life. She is known to splurge on a a flute of champagne at intermission and is always on the lookout for vintage Chanel.

Recently we caught up with Abrera who told us what she values in art and life—and why.  

What is the last thing that you splurged on?
Champagne at intermission.

What is something that you’re saving up for? 
A pickup truck.

Lauren Post, Stella Abrera, and Zhong-Jing Fang. Photo: Rupert Ramsay, BFA.

Lauren Post, Stella Abrera, and Zhong-Jing Fang. Photo: Rupert Ramsay, BFA.

What would you buy if you found $100?
A vintage Chanel suit at a garage sale.

What makes you feel like a million bucks?
When a student has a ballet breakthrough through my guidance.

What do you think is your greatest asset? 
My optimism.

What do you most value in a work of art? 
When I feel changed after experiencing the art.

Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention? 
Choreographer Gemma Bond.

Who is a dance artist you are waiting to see take the limelight?
Sierra Armstrong.

Stella Abrera in Giselle. Photo: MIRA.

Stella Abrera as Giselle in Giselle. Photo: MIRA.

What is your most treasured possession? 
Pointe shoes from my Giselle debut at the Metropolitan Opera House.

What’s been your best investment? 
Ballet lessons. Thanks Mom and Dad.

What is something small that means the world to you? 
My wedding band.

What’s not worth the hype? 
Saving the best for last.

Stella Abrera in ABT JKO School class. Photo: Olivia James.

Stella Abrera in ABT JKO School class. Photo: Olivia James.

What do you believe is a worthy cause? 
Protecting the environment, our wild spaces, our climate, and education access for all children.

What do you aspire to? 
Find balance, and help students do the same.

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