Gillian Murphy, Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre
Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in dance?GM: I grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and my mom put me in ballet class when I was young. She danced growing up in England, but she never expected that I would take it so seriously. I was instantly drawn to the musicality and physicality of dance, and it has always been my favorite form of expression.
How old were you when you started to dance? What do you think of the training now?
GM: I was three when I first starting taking ballet class, and by the time I was eight I was taking it more seriously and constantly dancing around the house. The development of the YAGP and the JKO School are fairly recent additions that have had an effect on the educational landscape. Furthermore, kids who may not be in large market areas now have the opportunity to be exposed to a broader and higher quality of dance through YouTube and social media. Hopefully these tools help kids find the best training in their area and make informed decisions in pursuing a professional path.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started at American Ballet Theatre?
GM: Invest in Google…Also, listen to my body more so that I don’t strain my calves a couple of times from pushing too hard in rehearsals.
What career would you choose if you could not be a dancer?
GM: If I could not be a dancer, then in a dream world, I would be a singer or a cellist.
What are your worst fears (professionally or personally)?
GM: Professionally, getting injured, and personally, my worst fear would be anything bad happening to my loved ones. But ultimately, I try not to dwell on fears. As Frank Herbert said in Dune, “Fear is the mind-killer.”
How has social media effected a dancer’s status and what is required of them?GM: I believe that a dancer’s artistry, grace, and athleticism should speak for itself on stage and should be the determining factor in gaining traction in the profession. However, the dance world is at a crossroads where it is imperative that we engage the next generation of young people with the art of ballet. My feeling is that it is important for dancers coming up today to stay focused on the pursuit of excellence and artistry in ballet without getting swept away by the self-promotional aspect of social media. However, at the same time, although it is not required or a genuine part of a dancer’s status in this field, it is worthwhile for dancers to consider using social media as a fun way to connect with a modern audience.
Which person (dead or alive) would you most want to dance with if you could?
GM: A young Freddie Franklin.
If a child told you they wanted to be a dancer, what would your advice be?
GM: I would advise young dancers to get the best training possible, to work hard and to not ignore their academic education as it will inform their artistry and/or prepare them for another career in case their pursuits or paths change.
If you could be an animal, what animal would you choose and why?
GM: An Abyssinian because cats are graceful and smart, and my Abyssinian, Selah has a pretty sweet life.
What is your greatest indulgence?
GM: Sleeping in.
What 3 items do you always have in your bag with you?
GM: Aside from the essentials (wallet, keys, cellphone), I always carry my new Lumix camera, a book, and a bottle of water.
What career would your family have chosen for you?
GM: My parents were always supportive of my passion for dance.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
GM: I think that if you grasp at happiness, it can be particularly elusive, so my idea of perfect happiness is to take pleasure in simple moments and gestures and to spend time with my loved ones.
Who would you like most to have a coffee with (could be dead or alive)?
GM: I would like to have a coffee with Jim Henson.
What is your favorite city to tour to and why?
GM: It’s difficult to choose, but Tokyo is one of my favorite cities to tour to because the audiences are so appreciative and the city is so perfect for wandering, shopping and eating.
What was your biggest mishap in a performance?
GM: I landed badly and dislocated a part of my foot near the end of Act II, Swan Lake, last year at the Metropolitan Opera House, and I was unable to finish the show. That was definitely my biggest and most traumatic mishap on stage.
Is there a special meal you have before performances?
GM: Pizza is usually my go-to performance food for full- length ballets.
Do you have one moment in your career that you remember most fondly?GM: I’m grateful for so many of the experiences I’ve had throughout my career, but a few of my most nostalgic memories involve being on stage with my fiancé Ethan Stiefel. Dancing with Ethan (as his Odette/Odile, Kitri, Lise in La Fille Mal Gardee, etc.) was always extra special because he inspires me so much professionally and personally. And it was particularly thrilling to be right by his side as Medora when he gave his electric final performance with ABT as Ali in Le Corsaire.