Two dancers raised and trained in Southern California have vaulted to the top rank of New York’s prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
Misty Copeland, who studied dance in San Pedro as a young girl and whose rise through the ranks of ABT has turned her into a national media darling, was named a principal dancer Tuesday at the Lincoln Center company.
Leaders at ABT also announced that Stella Abrera, who hails from South Pasadena, has been promoted to the rank of principal, which is the highest position for a dancer in a ballet company. The promotions are effective starting Aug. 1, the company said.
“I’m overjoyed. There’s no other word for it,” said Abrera in an interview on Tuesday. “I’m still kind of shocked about it all.”
The dancer was born in the Philippines but moved with her family to South Pasadena around the age of four. She started studying dance at the age of five and studied at Le Studio in Pasadena.
“They were great with children and they made it fun for me to learn. That’s where my love for dance began,” she said. Because her father moved around for work, she also studied at the West Coast Ballet Theatre in San Diego and in Australia. She eventually moved back to the U.S. as a teenager, enrolling at South Pasadena High School.
Abrera joined ABT’s corps de ballet in 1996 and was named a soloist in 2001. She now calls the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York her home. This week, she will be performing the title role in ABT’s production of “Cinderella” at the Metropolitan Opera.
To young dancers hoping for careers in ballet, she said, “Just keep working as hard as you can. To work hard and perserve is important but realize that luck and timing also play a role.”
On Tuesday, ABT also announced that Maria Kochetkova, a principal with the San Francisco Ballet, and Alban Lendorf, a principal with the Royal Danish Ballet, are joining the company as principals.
Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of ABT, said in a statement: “Seven amazing dancers from American Ballet Theatre were promoted today. Each has demonstrated the talent and hard work needed to succeed in a highly competitive environment. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Copeland was born in Kansas City, Mo., but was raised in San Pedro, where she began her ballet studies at 13 at the San Pedro City Ballet. As a student, she won first place in the Music Center Spotlight Awards.
She joined ABT’s corps de ballet in 2001 and was appointed a soloist in August 2007. In recent months, she has been profiled on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and graced the cover of Time magazine. She has spoken openly in the media about being a black dancer in a profession where few African Americans have risen to the top ranks.
She has also entered the world of product endorsement, appearing in ads for the sportswear company Under Armour.
In 2014, Copeland was the first African American to dance the female lead in the ballet “Coppelia” for ABT.
“It’s very exciting,” she said in an interview with the Times. “When I’m given an opportunity like this, performing Swanilda, I really don’t step back and look at the picture thinking ‘Oh, I’m the first.’ I get into this little bubble and just try to do my best and completely do all the research I can on the role. It usually doesn’t hit me until I’ve performed the part.”
Earlier this month, Copeland appeared to great fanfare and publicity in ABT’s production of “Swan Lake,” in which she played the dual lead roles.
ABT also announced that dancers Skylar Brandt, Thomas Forster, Arron Scott and Cassandra Trenary have been promoted to the level of soloist, the second highest rank behind principal. In addition, Jeffrey Ciro of Boston Ballet will join ABT as a soloist.