Christopher Stuart considers himself an honorary Southerner. Though he grew up in Connecticut and first discovered his love for dancing by visiting New York City and Boston, the new Artistic Director of the Alabama Ballet launched his career in Nashville and Charlotte before relocating to the Magic City. “I’ve slowly, over the years, moved further South,” he laughs. “I feel like more of a Southerner now. It’s more relaxed, and I like the vibe.”
By the time he was 16, with the encouragement of friends and fellow dancers, Stuart had made up his mind that he needed to attend a boarding arts school. His parents offered their blessing and support, and Stuart landed at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Upon graduation, he was accepted to the Nashville Ballet, a company he would grow with for 16 years as a principal dancer, then top off with two years as resident choreographer. After a stint with the Charlotte Ballet as second company and interim director, Stuart, along with his wife and two daughters, headed to Birmingham over the summer. Naturally, they love it already.
“It was an easy move,” he says. “I’ve been talking to people in the arts around town, and I feel like we are in a good place as a city. There’s a lot more to learn, but this is a good time for Alabama Ballet to make an impact in our community and in surrounding communities.”
When asked how he juggles having two young daughters — ages 8 and 2 – with being the artistic director of the region’s preeminent ballet company, Stuart laughs out loud and admits that he “never takes off either hat” of being a director or being a parent. “This is not a nine to five job,” he admits. “I am always doing something late at night, like talking to choreographers and other people in the field around the country and around the world — and everyone has different time zones. But if you truly love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.”
At the time of our interview, the dancers were preparing to return after a refreshing summer reprieve and launch straight into an ambitious season with their new director. Three new ballets are on the docket for the season: an unnamed (as of press time) new ballet by Stuart’s former colleague in Nashville, Julia Eisen; a ballet by Roger VanFleteren called Messin’ With Mozart; and curated excerpts from Stuart’s own ballet, Under the Lights, featuring the music of Johnny Cash.
“I’m giving patrons a taste of the future,” Stuart explains. “Local flavor is important to me — I incorporated it in Nashville and Charlotte, I’ve done collaborative things with museums, children’s theaters, local artists and musicians. It engages other components of our arts community.”
In addition to shepherding the new season to resounding success, Stuart is overseeing the Alabama Ballet’s official school — and has the desire to blend ballet and education in exciting new ways, such as choosing works from classroom reading lists around Birmingham and creating 30-minute dance performances based on the literature.
“I did this a lot in Charlotte,” he says. “Having two young girls, and with me growing up in the arts, I’ve seen how much art can affect your life. Not everyone who attends our school will become a dancer . . . but we can instill appreciation for the arts in everyone.”
SIDEBAR - Christopher’s Favorites Around Birmingham
Restaurant: “I go to Red Cat a lot for lunch a lot since it’s near the Ballet. They already know my name! I also love Bettola.”
Attraction: “We went to the Birmingham Zoo recently with our girls — amazing zoo! We’ve also been to the Pepper Place market. Such a great market, and right down the street from our studios.”
Pastime: “We love to just drive around on the weekends, see what’s out there and observe our surroundings. Birmingham is so hilly and beautiful. We also just bought a house and love doing our household projects!”
"There’s a lot more to learn, but this is a good time for Alabama Ballet to make an impact in our community and in surrounding communities.”