Stephanie Williams, a member of American Ballet Theatre, was following a smooth, steady path early in her career.
After graduating from the Australian Ballet School with Honours, she joined the Australian Ballet in 2007 and began getting interesting roles.
Three months after joining, she was cast in one of three couples of Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Soon other roles came her way: Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun, and solo parts in Les Sylphides and Suite en Blanc.
An intriguing opportunity arose when Wheeldon brought his company Morphoses to Sydney in 2009, and Williams was among several Australian dancers invited to appear with the troupe. (The AB made her participation possible, releasing her for a month and a half.)
Yet, after four years, she left the AB to explore what other companies and situations she might find. “I was getting amazing opportunities, but it was kind of the easy route,”she recalled, speaking from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, where ABT was in the midst of its eight-week season.
“I’d never been uncomfortable. My brain works very quickly, and I always need to be stimulated. I felt that I needed to see what was out there in the world – in dance, and in life. That was what really pushed me to make a move.
“I left, and didn’t have a job for six months. I travelled around. It was a very scary transition, but I learned a lot. It gave me a lot of gratitude to be in the art form; to have that six-month hiatus really confirmed to me how much I love it, and how special it is – what we get to do.
“I [figured] I’d end up where I was meant to be. I was offered a six-month contract by Dutch National Ballet – which was incredible. The people in that company are wonderful. I felt I made amazing friends. But there was always something about it that was so transitional. I was still living out of one suitcase. I was scared that they might not want to extend my contract.
“So I thought I should put my feelers out, so that I would have options. I sent ABT an e-mail expressing interest. They said, come take some classes – but I could only fly to New York on a Friday, take class Saturday, then fly back to Amsterdam on Sunday.
So I just booked a flight and hotel – which is kind of crazy. But I thought, the worst that can happen is that I get to take class with ABT, which is amazing, and have a weekend in New York. I was going to go and dance and have a good time. And I really did.
“When I walked in to ABT, there was something about it that felt right. I felt good dancing, and then I had a really nice talk with Kevin [McKenzie, the artistic director]. When I took class, it felt right, like I fit – that I needed to be here. I think that’s what I was searching for.” Six weeks later, she was a member of ABT’s corps de ballet.
Williams cites the chance to perform the classics consistently, and the ongoing presence of Alexei Ratmansky, ABT’s artist in residence, as two primary attractions of dancing with ABT.
“I was one of the maidens in his Firebird, and that was one of the most fun things to dance – very rewarding, physically – we were literally on stage for the whole ballet. I remember the rehearsal period was so much fun. I loved every second of it.”
How does ABT compare with her home company? “To me, it’s hard to compare – because I’m in a very different place. In my time in AB there were quite a few holes in the repertoire that I was struggling with. I feel that now the rep is starting to pick up in Australia, which is really good.”
Williams has been getting some featured parts – Zulma in Giselle, one of the demi-soloists in Theme and Variations – and the New York Times recently took note of her in an article singling out six ABT corps dancers. Brisbane audiences will see her as one of the soloists in Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, and in Swan Lake.
“I’m surrounded by such incredible dancers and artists every day – there’s a lot to learn from watching. And I really hope that one day I will get to dance a lot of the leading roles once again. If that happens, it will be at the right time.”
- Susan Reiter
This article was first published in the August-September issue of Dance Australia magazine.