Murphy admits it's going to take her a lifetime of trying to find Giselle's nuances. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT

This is How Gillian Murphy Became Such a Great Dance Actress

As a member of American Ballet Theatre for more than 20 years—and a principal for 16—Gillian Murphy has danced her fair share of iconic roles. Yet what transforms each of her performances from entertaining to unforgettable is not just her rock-solid technique or wow-worthy turns, but her artistic approach.

She recently told Dance Magazine about the work that goes into her seemingly effortless portrayals of everyone from a calculating Gamzatti to a head-over-heels Juliet.

Spending Time in the Corps Made Her a Better Principal

"For something like Giselle or Juliet, I'm so familiar with the stories from dancing all of the other roles as I came up through the ranks. I already know that there's going to be a lifetime of trying to delve into those characters and find nuances."

Getting Into The Character's Skin Takes Research

Murphy channeling Lizzie Borden. Photo by Marty Sohl, courtesy ABT.

"I like to go into dramatic roles with a sense about who the character is. I did the most research for Lizzie Borden in Fall River Legend. I went to Fall River, Massachusetts, and got some books to read about her. That character is not about the steps. It's really about who she is and what she's going through."

"Once I have a general sense of who the character is, the next step is understanding where the tricky bits are in the choreography. And then, it's playing with my imagination and perhaps having an internal dialogue."

"My aim is not to create a stage persona, but to really immerse myself in the character in an authentic way. I want to channel their feelings through my understanding of that experience."

Her Approach To Movement Isn't What It Used to Be

"I've learned that doing everything full force at every moment isn't particularly interesting. You want to work as hard as you can at all times, but I've found that it can be good to pull back and breathe. Having those parts makes the dynamic moments resonate more."

She Brings Her Personal History to Her Roles

Murphy in The Dream. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT.

"I definitely pull from my own experiences of falling in love or suffering loss. But there's also my imagination, which has been cultivated by reading, going to museums and live theater and concerts."

Her Ideal Partnership Is a Silent One

"With my partner, if we can purely respond to each other's characters through dance in the moment, I find that ideal. There's no need to discuss anything because it's really a physical body language, and I can read and feel what he's conveying to me. I want to be totally immersed in the live music and the character or the style, and just see where it goes."

She Never Stops Questioning Her Choices

"In a long season or a role I've done countless times, it's vital to keep it fresh and rethink things in rehearsal, but also to just go with the flow emotionally. If the dancer is inspired, that comes across to the audience that something special is happening."

Latest Posts


Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS

Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest