American Ballet Theatre’s Stella Abrera Organized A Special Ballet Repertoire For A Cause
Studying to become a prima ballerina was a colorful lifelong pursuit for American Ballet Theatre’s Fil-Am principal dancer, Stella Abrera. As an American raised with Filipino heritage, it was Stella’s desire to give back to young children here in the Philippines who are aspiring ballet dancers.
In partnership with Sofia Zobel-Elizalde and Ayala Foundation’s educational program, CENTEX (The Center of Excellence in Public Elementary Education) made it possible for Stella and her friends from American Ballet Theatre to motivate and inspire child scholars with an education enriched by the performing arts.
Ruel Maranan of Ayala Foundation addresses the media alongside Stella Abrera after presenting a dance preview at Maybank Theater in BGC, Taguig
Through CENTEX, children with certain skills and pursuits are screened and chosen from impoverished families to be part of the program, where they are given better opportunities for a brighter tomorrow.
Ruel Maranan, president of Ayala Foundation explains how well-appreciated this offering of their massive talent for the greater good is, saying, “This wonderful gesture from Stella and her fellow American Ballet Theatre stars provides a much welcome boost for the continuing development of hundreds of students and teachers participating in the CENTEX program.”
American Ballet Theatre dancers visit CENTEX scholars who participate in an educational program that merges the performing arts with quality academics
Several months ago, Stella extended the idea of coming to the Philippines to some of her experienced dance colleagues: American Ballet Theatre stars Gillian Murphy, Isabella Boylston, Blaine Hoven, Roman Zhurbin, Arron Scott, Jose Sebastian, Catherine Hurlin, and Joowon Ahn. Her husband, Ballet Master, Sascha Radetsky, who has accompanied the ABT troupe on their performances, recognized how important dance advocacies for greater causes were to Stella early on. “The older and more experienced and well-known she becomes, the more she feels a responsibility and desire to give back to community,” he says.
“Stella founded a charity (Steps Forward) after Typhoon Haiyan a few years ago, and she raised money to help rebuild the school in the province of Guiuan.” Sascha proudly points out. “She came and danced with Ballet Philippines and they went to visit the school they helped rebuild a few years ago. She also wanted to do something like this, which was to bring some of her colleagues here and some performances and then she linked up with Sofia. It's pretty remarkable what two Filipino women can accomplish together, they can do anything.”
Sofia Zobel-Elizalde graces the dance preview at Maybank Theater
Stella performs an exclusive preview scene from "Romeo and Juliet" with her colleague at the American Ballet Theatre, Joowon Ahn
Stella blissfully recounts the early days of discussing her ideas with Sofia for the collaboration: “Sofia and I became friends in New York, it was a very fortuitous meeting, a mutual friend introduced us and we started joking around about how fun it would be to put a show together one day. That was maybe two years ago. I saw that there was a little break for us ABT dancers after our Asia tour to Singapore and Hong Kong. I thought this is the perfect opportunity to bring some of my best friends to show some of my favorite pieces to the Philippines. So I called up Sofia and said, ‘Let’s go girl, let’s do this!’ Then step by step, piece by piece, months of hard work and planning and a whole team assembled and we’re here at this point.”
Stella shares the early beginnings of American Ballet Theatre’s planned collaboration with CENTEX
The American Ballet Theatre team, now here in Manila, having also spent Holy Week in Palawan, had the opportunity to meet some of the children participating in the CENTEX program locally and Stella shared that they were all misty-eyed after the children’s performances.
“There were little kids who’d only been training in ballet for a year and that’s when the waterworks started for me. They performed this really sweet, beautiful dance for us,” Stella tearfully recounts the delightful experience of watching the children’s performances and getting to meet the CENTEX scholars in person.
Stella listens to the kids' stories after appreciating their quality performances. The ABT troupe couldn’t help but want to get to know the CENTEX students more on a deeper level.
“The joy on their faces was what was so moving for me,” Stella recalls. “Then we got to get a tour of the school and we walked into some of the classrooms where the little children, included us, we sat in a circle with them and sang ‘I’m a little teapot’, and we sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and we shared what we did during Holy Week. I’m sure we can all say that it was a remarkable, memorable experience. Something we’ll never forget.”
Gillian Murphy, Stella’s best friend in the group, was especially moved by the level of passion and quality in dance exhibited by the children. She says, “We were all feeling overwhelmed and so honored that the proceeds of our galas are going to these kids.”
Stella with her best friend at the American Ballet Theatre, Gillian Murphy
“…just overwhelmed by that and how cute they were, how sweet… the little ballet dancers came out and we couldn’t keep it together. We’re still really sort of recovering. They were so beautiful. The fact that they’d only trained for one year and they were doing the formations and the steps that they were doing at their age, it was quite extraordinary—the joy, their presentation, and how much love they put into performing for us.”
Last April 6 and 7, Stella and her American Ballet Theatre colleagues performed a special ballet repertoire prepared by Stella herself at the Maybank Theater in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Proceeds from the show will benefit the CENTEX Program of Ayala Foundation. “An Intimate Evening with Stella Abrera & American Ballet Stars” is co-presented by Ayala Foundation, alongside Ayala Group of Companies and Patek Philippe.
The Ayala Group of Companies comprising Ayala Corporation, Ayala Land, Inc., Bank of the Philippine Islands, Globe Telecom, AirSWIFT, Raffles Makati, SedaHotels, El Nido Resorts and Steps Dance Studio are fully supportive of this dance project for charity. It is also sponsored by The Aivee Group, Distinqt, and Nespresso.
Photographs by Julia Arenas, with additional photos courtesy of Visions & Expressions