Welcome to Pointe of View, the official podcast and blog of the Alabama Ballet. This podcast/blog will give an inside look into the world of a professional ballet company and serve as a platform to sit down with our company dancers, artistic team and special guests to explore a variety of topics and our own “pointe of view”.
Our first guest is Tracey Alvey, artistic director and CEO of Alabama Ballet. She joins us to help introduce this podcast/blog as well as the Alabama Ballet organization.
Ashlyn: Let’s start by you introducing yourself and letting everyone know a little bit more about you.
Tracey: I’m originally from Kent, England in the UK. I have been with the company since 2005. I danced professionally myself for 20 years and I am happy to be a part of this team.
Ashlyn: Let’s go back to the beginning. Give us a brief history of how the Alabama Ballet came to be.
Tracey: The Alabama Ballet began in 1981 as an outgrowth of the Birmingham Civic Ballet, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Ballet and Ballet Alabama. And under the artistic direction of world-renowned dancers, Dame Sonia Arova and Thor Sutowski, the company found status and recognition in the ranks of professional companies. They were with the company for 15 years and then Wes Chapman took over the directorship, bringing along Roger VanFleteren. And then in 2005, I joined the company as ballet mistress.
Ashlyn: Which for those that don’t know…you and Roger, our associate artistic director have a history together.
Tracey: Yes, we danced together in London. We certainly did. I have many happy memories of him hailing me across the floor.
Ashlyn: You guys just can’t get away from each other. So, you joined the company in 2005 and then in 2007 became the artistic director.
Tracey: Yes, I was interim for two years and then they gave me the directorship.
Ashlyn: The Alabama Ballet is a nonprofit organization and the state’s premiere professional ballet company. And we are fortunate in that we get to bring productions like George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to the stage, licensed by the Balanchine Trust. But that’s only one of many things that we have had the privilege of performing throughout the years. Talk a bit more on what we’ve been able to perform.
Tracey: I really believe that it is important not only for the dancers, but also the audience, to experience every possibility that we can bring them within our budget. That is my goal. We have had Twyla Tharp pieces here a few times, we’ve had Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, we’ve had Jiří Kylián’s Six Dances amongst many others. We have had so many high-quality individuals come and work with the company and bring productions to the stage that are brand new to Alabama. And it’s important for me and important for the dancers that they get to work with these first-class individuals.
Ashlyn: Let’s talk about how or company in particular is set up.
Tracey: We have about 26 dancers on contract and the remaining dancers are what we call apprentices. And unfortunately, they are unpaid trainees. But what they bring is a full corp de ballet and we offer them training in a first-class environment, they work with the company each day. We work from ten in the morning until five at night every day. They are on contract for roughly 30 weeks out of the year. Productions take between five and six weeks to put together. We stay busy. We are already working on productions in a few weeks’ time that we won’t perform until later in the season. We have to organize the season around several schedules like choreographers that we are working with so they can come in to work with the company.
Ashlyn: The Alabama Ballet is not only a professional company but a RAD accredited school, all under one roof. Explain how our school is set up and what that means to be RAD accredited.
Tracey: Okay so RAD is a training method and it gives us a way of gauging a student’s progress without stressing a young body. Its curriculum is proven. I was completely RAD trained myself so from the age of eleven when I went into full time training until I was sixteen when I did my final exams. We have approximately 200 students in the school and ten levels. They take exams each year and if successful, move up into the next level. We are producing very well-trained, disciplined and committed young dancers and while not all students that come through our school will end up dancing they will leave our school with a healthy appreciation for dance and all forms.
Ashlyn: And another unique point is that we are the only RAD certified school in the state of Alabama.
Tracey: Yes, it is very popular in Europe and Asia and is gaining popularity in America. It has a great track record and it takes into account a young dancer and their bodies to make sure it is not pushed too much. Because you can’t push them to an extreme.
Ashlyn: The mission of the Alabama Ballet is to change lives through dance by promoting and fostering the development of classical and contemporary ballet through high-quality performances, dance education and community outreach. Let’s dive into some of those outreach programs.
Tracey: We have several outreach programs that we implement throughout the year. One is CityDance, where we send our dancers out into Birmingham City Schools to educate their students on the art of dance and provide some dance instruction. We have Dance Discovery which is similar and we go out into the community into libraries and other organizations across town. We offer free school show matinees to students across the state. We perform the Thursday morning prior to opening night and these are made possible thanks to grants and sponsors. We also have 2nd Tuesday, with our first one coming up next week, which is free and open to the public to come into our studios and gives a sneak peek into our upcoming production. We have Dennis Nahat from Blue Suede Shoes joining us for this one. We chat, answer questions, display costumes and such. You know the costumes for this by Bob Mackie are full of glitter and feathers, so a lot of that.
Ashlyn: That there is! Tracey, is there anything else that you want to touch on before we wrap up?
Tracey: You know, what my goal has always been is to try and distance us a little bit from the stuffiness of ballet that a lot of people associate with the art form. I think it can be appreciated by everybody from all walks. I really do believe that we always put a program together that is appealing and attractive to everybody.
Ashlyn: That wraps our first episode/post. Thanks, Tracey, for your help. We hope to release new episodes/posts every two weeks and you can subscribe to Spotify to hear those as they come out or check back here to read more. Thanks for reading along and we will be back soon!