Ethan Stiefel's retirement from American Ballet Theatre on Saturday, the last day of the company's season, marks the end of an era. A generation of male principal dancers—Vladimir Malakhov, Julio Bocca, Jose Manuel Carreño, Angel Corella, and now Stiefel—that many of us grew up idolizing onstage and on TV will have all taken their final bows at the Met. I was deeply moved to see Stiefel, on Monday evening, dancing Ali in Le Corsaire (which he'll repeat at his farewell performance). Not only because he gave a truly terrific performance—no signs of injury and expertly milking his big solo for an adoring audience—but you could feel him lift the energy of all the dancers onstage. You could see his unabashed fearlessness in Marcelo Gomes, who danced the leading pirate Conrad—and who was in the corps de ballet in 1998 when Le Corsaire was filmed for PBS, with Stiefel, in his second year as a principal dancer with ABT, in that role. (If you pay attention, you can actually see Gomes as one of the pirates in the film version.) You could see Stiefel's presence strike a fire in Sascha Radetsky, then also one of the pirates in the corps, now dancing the slave trader Lankedem. Stiefel inspires greatness, and will continue to do so not only throughout ABT's ranks, but in his own company, Royal New Zealand Ballet, where he's entering his second year as director. We hope to see RNZB here in the States soon.
Stiefel as Conrad (his solo begins at 1:35) in Le Corsaire (1998)
Stiefel with Alessandra Ferri in Ashton's The Dream (2004)
Stiefel with Julie Kent in Balanchine's Stars and Stripes, filmed for Center Stage (2000)