About Ms. Copeland’s breakthrough, she added: “It was historic, and there should be a lot of celebration about it. I really admire and respect that woman’s work ethic and her poise. It takes a lot of strength in this ballet world. She represents us so well.”
Ms. Abrera still faces challenges. Like Ms. Copeland, who is 35, she contends with an older body (that calf still acts up), and is making her debut in parts that most principals have been dancing for years. “I had to actively try to squash away initial feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness, because they would have just completely sabotaged my whole process,” she said. “Being older and having had experience in other roles gave me the confidence to do that.”
Ms. Abrera, who is married to the former Ballet Theater soloist Sascha Radetsky, also has a delicate strength that sets her apart from other dancers. Her elegant arms can appear velvety soft before stretching into sharp lines. She can flitter between humor and pathos. “I have a face that’s really malleable, and I’ve been told that I can do too much,” she said. “So I always try to make sure that I’m authentic, not cartoonish.”
James Whiteside, her Romeo, is in awe — his word — of the way Ms. Abrera can change so quickly in a role. “It’s devastating,” he said of her Juliet. “You have this innocent young girl who is head over heels with a boy from the rival family. You get to the end and she is willing to kill herself in what doesn’t feel like a childish tantrum. It feels like it’s out of complete and utter devastation and she has an ability to show that arc that I have rarely seen.”
Ms. Abrera’s malleability may have something to do with her training, which changed each time her family moved to a new city. (Her father worked as a civil engineer.) She was born in the Philippines and moved to California when she was 4.