Stiefel Pops, Locks, And Teaches in Center Stage II
People tend to confuse him with Cooper Nielson, his character in the popular dance movie Center Stage, says Ethan Stiefel, just because they both ride motorcycles. "If there are similarities, they are purely coincidental," Stiefel says. Fans may get even more confused when he reprises his role in Center Stage II, now shooting in Vancouver. This time Cooper not only dances but teaches, just like Stiefel, a principal at American Ballet Theatre who recently was named dean of dance at North Carolina School of the Arts. Stiefel feels his teaching experience (he has run a summer intensive program Stiefel and Students, on Martha's Vineyard for several years) helped him with some of Cooper's scenes. "I'm still creating a character, but some things he says ring true to my philosophy," Stiefel says. "Like, you can have obvious talent and technique, but what about the intangibles that make a great artist?"
This time around, the movie follows Kate Parker (Rachele Smith), an ambitious young dancer from a small town, who comes to New York to enroll in the prestigious American Ballet Academy, and must contend with scornful fellow students who look down on hip hop, one of her passions. Stiefel had to learn some moves, which proved one of the shoot's highpoints. "It was fantastic!" he says. "I'm not sure I was necessarily successful, but what was beautiful was the collaboration with the other dancers. At this point in my career, when learning something brand-new like this falls into your lap, it's challenging and exciting." With multiple knee injuries behind him, Stiefel has a fresh perspective on his career, and the message of movies like Center Stage II. "It's about what makes an artist," he says. "It's not about the number of turns or how high you jump, but about that other thing you can't describe that someone has no matter what they're doing. It's about being able to express yourself completely onstage. You have to fight for a professional career; it doesn't always come easily. You may get knocked down a lot in your training, or with knee surgeries, but you have to pick yourself up and move forward." Like he is. Welcome back, Cooper. Er, Stiefel.
photo credit: Stiefel at JKO School
Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of ABT