Raised in Florence, South Carolina, Gillian Murphy began her ballet training at the age of three in Belgium and continued her ballet classes at the age of five in South Carolina.
After training in South Carolina as a member of the Columbia City Ballet, she continued her studies at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Under the tutelage of Melissa Hayden she danced principal roles in several of the school’s ballet productions including The Nutcracker and George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, Western Symphony, Tarantella and Theme and Variations.
In 1994, at the age of 15, Murphy was a finalist at the Jackson International Ballet Competition. In 1995, she was awarded the Prix de Lausanne Espoir after performing the final round at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. In 1996, she was a YoungArts Winner in Dance/Ballet (Level I); YoungArts is the core program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. In 1998, she was honored with a Princess Grace Foundation-USA grant. The Princess Grace Foundation awarded her its highest honor, the Statue Award, in 2009.
Murphy has appeared as a guest artist in Japan, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Canada and throughout the United States. She made her debut with the Mariinsky Ballet in March 2008, dancing Odette-Odile in Swan Lake. Other guest appearances include the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Kiev Ballet and the 2009 world premiere of a new production of The Nutcracker, directed and choreographed by Ethan Stiefel for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Murphy joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in August 1996, was promoted to Soloist in 1999 and Principal Dancer in 2002. Her repertoire with the Company includes Polyhymnia in Apollo, Nikiya and Gamzatti in La Bayadère, the Ballerina in The Bright Stream, Cinderella in Cinderella, Swanilda in Coppélia, Medora and Gulnare in Le Corsaire, Kitri in Don Quixote,Titania in The Dream, the Accused in Fall River Legend, second girl in Fancy Free, Lise in La Fille mal gardée, the pas de deux Flames of Paris, Grand Pas Classique, Myrta in Giselle, His Memory and His Experiences in HereAfter, the Queen of Hearts in Jeu de Cartes, Known By Heart pas de deux, Manon in Lady of the Camellias, Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, the Sugar Plum Fairy in Kevin McKenzie’s The Nutcracker, Desdemona in Othello, Other Dances, Hagar in Pillar of Fire, Raymonda in Raymonda, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (Romeo’s Farewell to Juliet), Princess Aurora and the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, Sylvia in Sylvia, the first and third movements in Symphony in C, the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and the ballerina in Theme and Variations, and leading roles in Allegro Brillante, Ballet Imperial, Ballo della Regina, Baroque Game, Birthday Offering, Paul Taylor’s Black Tuesday, The Brahms-Haydn Variations, Clear, Désir, Diversion of Angels, Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, Duets, Études, From Here On Out, Gong, In the Upper Room, Meadow, Les Patineurs, Pretty Good Year, Push Comes to Shove, Sinfonietta, Les Sylphides, Symphonie Concertante and featured roles in Company B, The Elements, Overgrown Path and Without Words.
She created Clara in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker and leading roles in Glow – Stop, Kaleidoscope, One of Three, Rabbit and Rogue, Thirteen Diversions and Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison.
Murphy danced Odette-Odile in the ABT telecast of Swan Lake and also appeared in the ABT telecast of Le Corsaire. Other television credits include the Washington Opera’s Die Fledermaus and, in November 2010, an appearance on the series “Gossip Girl.” During November 1999, she also participated in the Melissa Hayden Project, part of the Balanchine Foundation’s video series filming dancers, who worked with George Balanchine, teaching their roles to young performers. The Foundation filmed Hayden teaching Murphy the pas de deux from Stars and Stripes and Donizetti Variations. Murphy was seen in the feature film Center Stage and also appeared in the sequel, Center Stage 2: Turn It Up.
Murphy is a charter member of Stiefel & Stars and directed a training program for young dancers, Dreamcatchers, on Martha’s Vineyard. In 2012, Murphy became a Principal Guest Artist with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.