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


Vikki Sloviter

Sydney Dolan Takes Center Stage at Pennsylvania Ballet

This is Pointe's Summer 2020 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.

Dolan's career could be described in one word: charmed. At just 19 years old, she's flown through the ranks at PAB, debuted a long list of roles, won a Princess Grace Award and been named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch." Yet it's her challenges that have shaped not only her training but her outlook, giving her a solid foundation for becoming one of Pennsylvania Ballet's rising stars.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Courtesy Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Reconnects with Nature in This 5-Part Video Series

Earlier this month, Alonzo King LINES Ballet released the first in a series of five dance films, part of a new project entitled "There Is No Standing Still." The series features company members spanning 10 cities and four continents dancing amid their outdoor environments, in spaces ranging from quiet forests to rocky deserts to the ocean shore. While COVID-19 has put the company's normal activity on hold and forced the dancers to separate from each other physically, "There Is No Standing Still" allows LINES to create new material together in a different way. Directed by Robert Rosenwasser and edited by Philip Perkins, this installment of five short films incorporates choreography by artistic director Alonzo King and company dancers as they become one with the space around them. Check out the first two, released last month, below.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
VAM/Siggul, Courtesy YAGP

YAGP Has Announced the Winners of the 2020 Pas De Deux Virtual Competition

Last weekend, Youth America Grand Prix took to the internet, hosting its first virtual pas de deux competition. Over the course of three days, YAGP streamed videos from its regional events' highest-ranked competitors for a panel of esteemed judges. And, drum roll please... YAGP has just announced the winners, spanning three categories: Senior Classical, Junior Classical and Contemporary.

You can watch the full virtual awards ceremony, hosted by YAGP director of external affairs Sergey Gordeev, below, or scroll down for the list of winners. And if you're missing the thrill of competition, don't fear: Gordeev announced that registration for the 2021 season will open on July 10, with both in-person and virtual options available.

Congratulations to all!

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks