Alabama Ballet dancers Luiza Boaventura and Andres Castillo in The Sleeping Beauty

Melissa Dooley, Courtesy Alabama Ballet

Alabama Ballet’s Repertoire Offers Dancers Chances to Perform Works by Some of Ballet’s Biggest Names

Flocks of swans, waltzing flowers, bourréeing phantoms and leaping princes are all regular sights in rehearsals at Alabama Ballet's downtown Birmingham studios. Throughout its season, the company produces classical story ballets as well as works by major names like Twyla Tharp, Agnes de Mille and Jiří Kylián. "We're classically based," says artistic director Tracey Alvey, who trained at The Royal Ballet School and was a principal with London City Ballet.


But during Alabama Ballet's annual Ovation showcase, the programming skews more toward the contemporary, as Alvey aims to "give the dancers something to extend their abilities. They need to be versatile, able to jump into any style and excel." This May, the double-bill features pieces by two female choreographers: the lyrical Donnette Cannonie and German dancemaker Anna Vita.

Two dancers in rehearsal clothes jump in jet\u00e9s in class with other dancers standing behind them

Alabama Ballet in company class

Melissa Dooley, Courtesy Alabama Ballet

Springing from three local organizations, Alabama Ballet traces its roots to the early 1980s, and was originally directed by noted Bulgarian dancer Sonia Arova and her husband, Thor Sutowski. Former American Ballet Theatre principal Wes Chapman served as artistic director next, from 1996 until Alvey's arrival in 2007. Under Chapman's leadership, the company began to present George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. In 1998, Alabama Ballet added a school, which became RAD certified under Alvey.

Alabama Ballet performs four main-stage productions per season plus an in-studio show. Story ballets are a staple, so audiences can expect full-lengths—such as Romeo & Juliet, La Sylphide and The Sleeping Beauty—alongside mixed-repertoire programs ranging from classical to contemporary. In recent years, these have included Act II of La Bayadère, Études by Harald Lander, Tharp's In the Upper Room, de Mille's Rodeo and Kylián's Sechs Tänze. Associate artistic director and resident choreographer Roger VanFleteren also produces original work, like Bonnie and Clyde and Alice in Wonderland.

"I love the variety of the repertoire," says Ariana Czernobil, who's now in her ninth season. "It's so different from year to year." A graduate of University of North Carolina School of the Arts' high school program, she became acquainted with Alabama Ballet as a teen because her sister was a company member. "Since we're unranked, there are also opportunities for new dancers to perform solo roles," says Czernobil. "An apprentice might be cast in the corps and also in a variation. We cheer everyone on."

Dancers dressed in colorful 1950s style costumes onstage doing a social dance step

Alabama Ballet dancers Luiza Boaventura and Frederick Lee Rocas in Dennis Nahat's Blue Sude Shoes

Courtesy Alabama Ballet


Alabama Ballet dancers can expect to work from around 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Alvey and VanFleteren take turns teaching daily company class, and in rehearsals for featured roles, Alvey works with the women while VanFleteren coaches the men. "The studio is a place where you leave your baggage at the door," says Alvey. "I'm firm, but fair. I expect the dancers to work as hard as I do. The studio should be a positive place." Czernobil notes that all company dancers get to work with them directly, since Alvey and VanFleteren rehearse both corps scenes and soloist roles.

Since Alvey took the helm, she's increased the length of contracts from 25 to 30 weeks per season. Over the next two years, she's aiming to add two more weeks. Next season, the company will welcome Balanchine's Western Symphony to its rep, and Alvey hopes to continue adding more works by renowned choreographers. "I have to budget creatively to do it, but it's worth it," she says.

When répétiteurs and choreographers come to set work on Alabama Ballet, Czernobil says that they are consistently impressed by the quality of the company. "Darla Hoover, the Balanchine répétiteur who sets The Nutcracker on us every year, calls us a 'little gem in the South.' "

Alabama Ballet At a Glance

Number of dancers: 25, plus 12 apprentices

Length of contract: 30 weeks

AGMA signatory: No

Performances per season: 30-plus, along with tours to about four cities in Alabama and Mississippi

Website: alabamaballet.org

Audition Advice

"Since we aren't defined by our rep, neither are our dancers," says Alvey. "But an aesthetic I look for both in women and men is beautiful feet and legs." For female dancers, Alvey seeks a height range from about 5' 2" to 5' 6". "Often, when a woman who is taller than that sends me an application, I'll let her know that she's a lovely dancer, but will be up front about what I'm looking for. I feel that's fair so that she doesn't spend time and money coming to audition."

The company has one open audition per year at their studios, typically in March, and about 50 dancers attend. Dancers can also submit applications to be considered for company class. "I usually only invite someone to class if I think they might be a potential hire," says Alvey. "Overall, I receive about 400 applications per year, and I go through each one individually."

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names and photos to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami CIty Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

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