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Claudia Lawson |

Ethan Stiefel, Center Stage

It’s likely that every single one of our listeners knows the name Cooper Nielson. He briefly broke Jody Sawyer's heart in the cult ballet movie Center Stage, and yet today, we speak with the man who played that role, Ethan Stiefel, who is far more interesting than the notorious Cooper Nielson. 

Ethan was born in Pennsylvania, and his father was a prison warden, and like many men before him, he was introduced to ballet by watching his sister's dance class. But by age 15, he had been accepted into the School of American Ballet where he trained with the likes of Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Upon graduation, he was accepted into the New York City Ballet, but the adventures didn't end there.

In this wondrous conversation, Ethan talk so candidly about his life and career. We talk about his early years rising through the ranks at the New York City Ballet before defecting across the Lincoln Center Plaza to join American Ballet Theater as a principal, and Ethan and I cover so much more. We discuss what it's like for American men to grow up dancing in the US, how he became artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, managing a long distance relationship with his now wife, Gillian Murphy, and taking some time off for himself. Finally, we talk about playing Cooper Nielson and his new venture as the artistic director of the American Repertory Ballet.

Ethan continues to live with his wife, Gillian Murphy, and their son in New Jersey in the US, while curating the new era of the American Repertory Ballet. For performance times and tickets, head to their website,, or you can find them on Instagram, @arballet. While Ethan doesn't have Instagram, you can follow many of his adventures through his wife's Instagram. Gillian Murphy, also a principal dancer at ABT @gillianemurphy. Ethan and I recorded our conversation remotely with Ethan dialing in from New Jersey on the East Coast of the US.

We are thrilled to be sponsored by Energetiks. Energetiks specialise in creating sustainable, world class dancewear for the stars Energetiks is offering Talking Pointes listeners a 20% discount [available until the end of March 2024]. Listen for the code in the episode. Shop their extensive range online at or if you’re listening from the US. T&Cs APPLY. @energetiks @energetiksusa

Talking Points is produced on the lands of the Gadigal and the Wanegal peoples to whom we pay our greatest respects. Talking Points is produced by Fjord Review. Remember to subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as they're released. If you like us, please leave a five-star review. On the next episode of Talking Points, you'll hear from Evie Ferris.

Your host and producer is me, Claudia Lawson, with additional production by Penelope Ford and Clint Topic. Sound production and editing is by Martin Peralta at Output Media. For the latest in all things dance, head to

Today we speak with Ethan Stiefel, who is far more interesting than the notorious Cooper Nielson. 

Claudia Lawson

Claudia Lawson is a dance critic based in Sydney, Australia, writing regularly for ABC Radio National, ABC Arts, and Fjord Review. After graduating with degrees in Law and Forensic Science, Claudia worked as a media lawyer for the ABC, FOXTEL and the BBC in London, where she also co-founded Street Sessions dance company. Returning to Sydney, Claudia studied medicine and now works as a doctor. She is the host of the award-winning Talking Pointes Podcast.


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