Huntsville Ballet Company learns to fly for production of ‘Peter Pan’

Megan Brantley | WHNT 19

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A piece of Neverland will be making it's way to the valley this weekend. The Huntsville Ballet Company is performing "Peter Pan."

We stopped by their rehearsal on Wednesday at the Von Braun Center, as a rigging team was teaching the dancers how to safely fly- no fairy dust included.

The dancers say they're enjoying the experience. "It was exhilarating. As a kid I loved of rollercoasters, and I had kind of forgotten about that thrill and then they got me up in the air and I started swinging and I just loved it," said Sarah Pautz, Principal Dancer for Huntsville Ballet Company.

Their first performance will be Saturday, April 9 at 2pm. They'll perform again at 7:30 and on Sunday at 2pm.

For Tickets, go to their website:

A family tradition: Parents, 5 daughters perform together in holiday favorite, The Nutcracker

Anna Claire Vollers  |

Nine-year-old Madeline McMahan's favorite part of The Nutcracker is the Sugar Plum Fairy's dance with her Cavalier.

"Being an angel, I get to see her up close," said Madeline. "I have the best place because I'm on the stage when she's dancing."

Madeline is part of a family tradition within a family tradition. She, along with her four sisters and both parents, will perform this weekend in The Nutcracker, a longstanding Huntsville tradition staged by the Huntsville Ballet Company and accompanied by the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.

The McMahan family of seven is part of a cast of 150 that will perform four public shows, Dec. 11-13 at the Von Braun Center Concert Hall.

"It's funner to have your parents in (the show) too," said Madeline. "And it's kind of good to know that you have bigger sisters that have been the parts you've bene, so they can help you with the parts."

Mike and Melissa McMahan – who met on a ballroom-dancing blind date – will perform in the show's party scenes with their youngest daughter, Lucy, 3. Elizabeth, 12, plays a Russian dancer and a large mouse; Amelia, 11, plays a Russian dancer and a mouse lieutenant; Madeline, 9, is a star (angel) and a small mouse; and Anna Kate, 7 is a star and a small mouse.

Melissa McMahan said the family has had fun and grown closer as they attended rehearsals together.

"When you have five daughters," said Mike, "you start thinking strategically about how to remain involved in their interests and activities as they get older."

Melissa and Mike aren't new to dance; they teach ballroom dancing at the Decatur Country Club and Melissa also teaches ballet at the School of Fine Arts in Decatur, Ala. Their older daughters have been in ballet since they were 3 or 4 years old.

"Dance has been part of our lives and it's nice it's something our children enjoy, too," said Melissa. "When you're an audience member you can appreciate the magic, but if you're part of the production you get to be part of making somebody's Christmas more magical and that's fun, too."

It's funner to have your parents in (the show) too.

While the McMahans are never all onstage together at the same time, Melissa said she tries to watch as much of the performance from backstage as possible.

"My goal in years' past when I've had 'mouse' children is to get my hoop (underneath her costume's skirt) off in time to get in the wings so I can watch," she said. "It's a different perspective for a parent.

"The Nutcracker is one of those holiday traditions that kind of stays the same," she said, "but every year it's different because the performers are different and it's live theater."

The Huntsville Ballet's version of The Nutcracker includes all the traditional music and choreography of Tchaikovsky's popular ballet, but with a few Huntsville-centric twists. The party guests in the opening scenes are historic Huntsville characters; the party is held at the home of the Erskine family and portraits of Alabama's first governor and his wife, William and Mary Bibb, hang on the wall.

The show's angel dancers are instead stars, referencing the popular song, "Stars Fell on Alabama." The dancing flowers are camellias (the state flower) and the Dewdrop Fairy has been rewritten as the Watercress Fairy, a nod to Huntsville's history as the Watercress Capital. New this year, the clown dancers that emerge from underneath Mother Ginger's skirt have been recast as biscuits that emerge from the oven of Aunt Eunice Merrill, one of Huntsville's most popular restaurant owners.

"It takes a family just to mount this production," said Huntsville Ballet Company's Artistic Director Phillip Otto, "between the school, the parents and the company." Many of the dancers' parents and family members are involved in props, costumes, backstage and onstage, he said.

"Having the Ballet and the Symphony work together makes it so much more magical," he said. "You get to see a full-length ballet the way it's meant to be seen, with live music."

The McMahans are part of the cast that performs in the Friday night and Sunday matinee shows; the other half of the cast will perform Saturday's matinee and evening shows. The Huntsville Ballet will also present four additional shows for students and the military.

"It's been fun as a family because when my children are dancing, their personalities come out," said Mike. "That's the beauty of the art of dancing: the steps are the same, but every dancer has her own personality."

Tickets and additional information for The Nutcracker are available by calling (256) 539-0961 or by visiting


Anna Claire Vollers |

A new video offers a backstage glimpse into the work ethic and passion that drives Huntsville ballet dancers.

The video, released by the Huntsville Ballet Company and produced by Red Brick Strategies of Huntsville, overlays interviews with young dancers over studio and dress rehearsal footage to tell the story of ballet as "the athletic pursuit of beauty."

"Dancers are athletes," says one dancer during the video. "I've played basketball, I've played baseball, I've run track and the hardest thing I've ever done is dance."

Other dancers discuss the difficult nature of the art form, the "rush of adrenaline," the long hours and hard work required to pull off a flawless performance. The video builds to a climax as the dancers perform on stage in full costume, accompanied by a crescendo of classical ballet music.

"We were so fortunate to be able to work with Red Brick Strategies on this project," said Amy Price, Huntsville Ballet's director of marketing, in a release. "They understand how excited we are to be part of Huntsville's vibrant arts scene and helped us tell our story.

I've played basketball, I've played baseball, I've run track and the hardest thing I've ever done is dance.

"They captured who we are and the excitement and joy present in this amazing and dynamic art form. I believe this truly shows a side of ballet most people never get to see."

The Huntsville Ballet Company will open its 52nd season on Oct. 23 with "Unplugged" featuring Carnival of the Animals and Pulcinella.

The Ballet joins with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra to present the 47th annual production of "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 11-13. The season closes with the premiere of Peter Pan, featuring original choreography by Phillip Otto, HBA's artistic director.

By David Wood |

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Huntsville Ballet Company is already ‘on pointe’ as all get out. The passion of the student performers is palpable.

“For me, dance isn’t just something I do after school. Dance is where I want to be,” one student says in the company’s latest promotional video. Coming soon are some exciting additions that will up the professionalism ante.

“And we have a bunch of surprises, one of which I can’t mention now, I’m just going to tease you with it,” smirks Artistic Director Phillip Otto.

What we can tell you about is how fired up everyone is about the upcoming season which will feature some firsts and a little experimentation for the dance company.

“In October we’re going to be doing some world premieres of ‘The Carnival Of The Animals’ and ‘Pulcinella,’ which is a ballet I was inspired by; by New York City Ballet and George Balanchine, the founder of New York City Ballet.”

And how about a Huntsville-centric Nutcracker concept? Otto says his company is getting closer to making their vision come to fruition.

“It’s not your regular Nutcracker,” Otto says. “It’s slowly morphing, as we raise some money to develop new sets and costumes, into Christmas Eve in Huntsville in the 1800’s. A Nut cracker based on Huntsville history, And then we can pass that history lesson, which is really cool, on to the third graders who come see it every year.”

The spring will see the company’s first foray into aerials and acrobatics with Peter Pan. The company is excited to interpret J.M. Barrie’s enchanting story through the beauty of ballet in this original production at the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall.

“Which is going to be neat because I’ve never choreographed people flying in the air before at the concert hall.”

Otto says what’s perhaps best about what lies in store is the universality of the art form and the magnificent season to come; with a couple of surprises.

“You know it’s not just for girls and moms who wanna come see people in tutus,” Otto assures. “You know, ballet has gone so much further than that. I think every dad, grandpa or uncle will enjoy this season, as well.”

Otto, who’s been with the company for 8 years, says when he first moved down to Huntsville he found himself competing with football — no huge surprise there. He’s even joked about writing and choreographing an Iron Bowl ballet to attract a broader audience. It’s kind of brilliant actually: you could have an audience of half Alabama, half Auburn fans and which ever donates the most money will win the ‘game.’ A little alternate ending action to satiate pigskin enthusiasts’ cravings for the thrill of the field. But what Otto says is increasingly gratifying is that the arts in Huntsville are emerging at the forefront of what we are all about here.

“I think people are really starting to appreciate dance a lot more and I think people just need to come out and experience new things and expose your kids, for example, to as much culture as possible.”

Otto, who also serves on Mayor Tommy Battle’s Arts Advisory Council, says leadership is all about that sentiment.

“He’s very proud of the fact that Huntsville is sort of a hub for the arts right now and he wants to see it grow.”

Click here for ticketing information and all you need to know to help make the arts grow in Huntsville.


From The Nutcracker to Peter Pan: Huntsville Ballet presents 'magnificent' season
By Anna Claire Vollers | 

The Huntsville Ballet Company has been called "one of Huntsville's crown jewels" by Huntsville Mayor Battle. Now the venerable organization just announced its 2015-2016 season, full of whimsical and engaging productions.

The season opens with Unplugged, which will feature original interpretations of Camille Saint-Saens's "Carinval of the Animals" and Igor Stravinsky's "Pulcinella." Unplugged is designed as an accessible way to introduce the art of music and dance to all ages. "Carnival of the Animals" expresses some of the silly traits shared by humans and animals, while "Pulcinella" offers a humorous take on the drama surrounding love and lovers.

In December, Huntsville Ballet Company presents the popular Huntsville tradition – a full-scale stage production of "The Nutcracker." The production – now in its 47th year – is set in antebellum Huntsville and features Tchaikovsky's familiar score, performed by the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.

The show runs Dec.11-13, but Nutcracker season officially kicks off in November with family-friendly activities. The Women's Guild of the Huntsville Ballet will present The Nutcracker Ball on Dec. 4.

The high-flying world premiere of "Peter Pan" will close out the season. It features original choreography by Huntsville Ballet's artistic director, Phillip Otto, that tells J.M.Barrie's classic tale of Wendy, Michael and John as they follow Peter to Neverland and join the Lost Boys to battle the nefarious Captain Hook.

Season tickets are now on sale and available through the Huntsville Ballet Company office or online at Season subscribers receive benefits including a special reception and opportunities for behind-the-scenes peeks at the productions.


Aspiring ballerinas, princesses invited to Enchanted Sleeping Beauty Ball with Huntsville Ballet
By Anna Claire Vollers |
If your little ballerina has ever dreamed of standing onstage in a big concert hall, the Huntsville Ballet Company has an invitation for you.

At the Enchanted Sleeping Beauty Ball, kids ages 4 and up get the chance to meet the cast of Huntsville Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty, go up on stage at the Von Braun Center Concert Hall, participate in a parade and enjoy refreshments .

Costumes are encouraged, of course.

The Ball is scheduled for noon on April 11, and ends just prior to the matinee performance of The Sleeping Beauty, one of Tchaikovsky's most famous ballets.

The Ball is hosted by the Women's Guild of the Huntsville Ballet. Proceeds will benefit the Huntsville Ballet's education and outreach programs.

Tickets are $30-40, which includes a ticket to the ball and to the performance. Tickets for the ball only are available to Huntsville Ballet season ticket holders and are $15.

More information is available at


Huntsville Ballet Company set to perform annual 'Nutcracker' show with local flair
By Amethyst Holmes |

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - The Huntsville Ballet Company and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra will perform "The Nutcracker" with local flair on Dec. 12, 13, and 14 at the Von Braun Mark C. Smith Concert Hall.

Artistic Director Phillip Otto and his cast of dancers seek to localize a classic holiday favorite, transforming the show into an unforgettable event for public audiences and the thousands of area third graders set to see the show this week. Cameos from Huntsville newsmakers like Mayor Tommy Battle and his wife, Eula, also add to the show's homey feel.

Set in Huntsville in the 1850s, the company's version of "The Nutcracker" includes new costumes, new set pieces and new hand-painted backdrops that resemble the interiors of historic Huntsville homes.  The Historic Huntsville Foundation and David Harwell, theatre program director at the University of Alabama in Huntsville helped in making the set look authentic.

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Huntsville Ballet gets "Unplugged" for season opener
By Pat Ammons,

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Huntsville Ballet Company has what Phillip Otto calls an “ambitious” season in store...The company will begin its three-show season on Oct. 25 with four performances of “Unplugged,” which includes new ballets choreographed by Otto and others. Some of the company’s dancers gave a preview of a few of the pieces recently, including the ethereal “Ave Maria,” danced by Catherine Hampton as a kind of guardian angel to dancer Kalie Jamieson.

Read the story, and see photos and video

Huntsville Ballet Announces a Magical Season for 2013-2014
Huntsville, Alabama

As Community Ballet Association celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Huntsville Ballet Company is proud to present a MAGICAL 2013-2014 Season. Cutting edge choreography, classical ballets and some wonderful surprises are sure to delight audiences of all ages as Huntsville Ballet Company dancers and special guest artists take the stage with passion, poise, and power.

Huntsville Ballet Company’s Unplugged returns to the Von Braun Center Playhouse October 25, 26, and 27, to begin the season. This year we are pleased to present special guests from UAH Theater. Huntsville Ballet Company’s “Unplugged” series offers new ballets by cutting edge choreographers as well as a taste of the classics. Experience ballet up close and personal in the intimate setting of Von Braun Playhouse.

The Huntsville Ballet Company continues the 2013/2014 season with their 45th annual production of The Nutcracker. This magical holiday classic has been a Huntsville tradition for over four decades. Don’t miss the magic this holiday season as Huntsville Ballet Company, with choreography by Artistic Director Phillip Otto and accompaniment by Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, brings this enchanting story to life at the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall. All children performing are registered students of The Huntsville Ballet School. 

The season concludes with the Spring Performance. This year Huntsville Ballet Company brings the magic of Cinderella to the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall. Huntsville Ballet Company tells the timeless story of Cinderella with majestic beauty, magical costumes and Prokoviev’s enchanting score. Cinderella is a servant to her evil stepsisters until her fairy godmother helps her win the love of a Prince. Cinderella will sweep you off your feet into a land where dreams are made. The Spring performance includes the 6th Annual Discover Dance Community Showcase, which will begin prior to Cinderella.

Season tickets are available by visiting, or calling 256-539-0961.


Huntsville Ballet brings 'Billy the Kid," Balanchine and more to Von Braun Center Concert Hall
By Pat Ammons,

Posted March 29, 2013

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - Huntsville Ballet Company is bringing a little of the wild, wild west to the Von Braun Center for its final performance of the 2012-2013 season. "Billy the Kid and More," will include the "Billy the Kid" ballet set to the music of Aaron Copeland and a tribute to George Balanchine, one of the greatest choreographers of all time. Read more

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The audience was laughing out loud and the actors were acting out of the box during the performance of Nutcracker Gone Wild at the Von Braun Center Sunday, December 9, 2012. (Eric Schultz / The Huntsville Times) Click here to see the photos

Huntsville Ballet Takes the Non-Profit Center Stage in Huntsville/Madision County's Chamber of Commerce magazine, Initiatives. Click here to see the online version, on pages 34,35.

Huntsville Ballet announces 2012-2013 season
Published: Sunday, July 29, 2012, 6:00 AM

By Deborah Storey, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Huntsville Ballet’s upcoming season will celebrate nature, Christmas and a famous outlaw.
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Huntsville Swan Flying North for a Special Performance
Huntsville, Alabama
Posted 6/1/12

Two dancers from Huntsville Ballet Company, Abby Callahan and Kagen Morring, will help celebrate and honor the life of Eva Ryan Block. Ms. Block was a former student of Mr. Phillip Otto, Artistic Director of Huntsville Ballet, and Rachel Butler, School Director of Huntsville Ballet School. Ms. Block died in a fire at her home in January 2012, and in honor of her dedication and passion for ballet, the Eva Block Ballet Scholarship Fund has been established. Mr. Otto will accompany the Huntsville Company dancers to New Haven, CT where they will perform the White Swan Pas De Deux for a benefit performance on June 16th.

Before coming to Huntsville in 2008, Mr. Otto was Artistic Director for New Haven Ballet, where Ms. Block danced, and Ms. Butler served as Ballet Mistress. Because the professional ballet community is a small one, it is not uncommon for Artistic or School Directors to reach out to each other for support. Mr. Otto commented, “When I approached the Community Ballet Association Board of Directors about doing this, they were very receptive, which we appreciate”. This scholarship will keep Eva's memory alive by giving the gift of dance to a child from the greater New Haven community who otherwise would not be afforded that opportunity. Community Ballet Association celebrates at the Virginia Hammill Simms Awards

By Amy Mayfield, The Huntsville Times
Posted 4/25/2012
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama--Thursday night, the North Hall of the Von Braun Center was a true celebration of the arts as the Community Ballet Association hosted the Virginia Hammill Simms Awards Dinner. 
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Virginia Hammill Simms nominees honored by Community Ballet Association are local luminaries
By Amy Mayfield, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama--Since 1968, local luminaries with an interest in expanding the arts in North Alabama have been recognized by the Community Ballet Association with the Virginia Hammill Simms Memorial Award.
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Huntsville Ballet Company presents 'Swan Lake and More'
By Deborah Storey, The Huntsville Times
Posted 4/8/2012
You could say Huntsville Ballet Company’s next presentation, “Swan Lake and More,” spans the ages.
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Moscow Festival Ballet does select dances in Huntsville Ballet show
By Deborah Storey, The Huntsville Times 
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posted 2/26/12

Classic holiday story 'Nutcracker' comes alive with Huntsville Ballet dancers, orchestra
December 02, 2011, 2:00 PM
The Huntsville Times By Deborah Storey, The Huntsville Times HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Just because “The Nutcracker” ballet dates to 1892, Huntsville audiences shouldn’t feel they’ve been there, done that. Missing the classic Christmas holiday story would be “like having Thanksgiving without the turkey,” said Phillip Otto, artistic director of Huntsville Ballet.
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For Immediate Release - November 22, 2011
Huntsville Ballet Company Teams with The Army Material Command Band at Redstone Arsenal for a Special Performance of The Nutcracker
Huntsville Ballet Company will again this year present a special performance of The Nutcracker free of charge to active and retired military. This year will be especially exciting as the Army Material Command Band (AMC) at Redstone Arsenal will present a short program prior to the start of the ballet. On December 8, 2011, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. the Vortex Tuba Quartet and the Woodwind Quintet, will perform in front of and in the lobby of the Von Braun Center Mark C. Smith Concert Hall. Beginning at 6:30 the AMC Four Star Jazz Orchestra will take center stage and perform a “Celebrating the Holidays” concert.
Huntsville Ballet Company will perform "The Nutcracker" beginning at 7:00 p.m. For tickets call 256-539-0961, and present military ID upon arriving at the performance. About The AMC Band
The AMC Band proudly serves the Soldiers and civilians of the U.S. Army Materiel Command stationed at more than 140 locations worldwide. The band, with its five Music Performance Teams, travels extensively throughout the country and overseas supporting 30 installations, 26 major tenants, seven Army Field Support Brigades, 11 subordinate commands, and four separate reporting activities within the AMC enterprise.

Since November 2003, the band has deployed in support of AMC Soldiers and civilians forward deployed in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. The AMC band has performed in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Afghanistan. The band is under the purview of the AMC chief of staff.

For Immediate Release - November 16, 2011
Huntsville Ballet Company to Perform The Nutcracker
Huntsville, Alabama- Huntsville Ballet Company will be presenting The Nutcracker, December 9th, 10th, and 11th, accompanied again this year by Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Joseph Lee. Performances will be at Von Braun Center Mark C. Smith Concert Hall. In addition to the public performances, The Nutcracker will be presented free of charge to active and retired military and their families on Thursday, December 8th, and to third graders from area schools on Friday morning. 
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Ballet Outside the Box 10/12/11
Huntsville, Alabama - The 45th season of Huntsville's premiere dance organization, Community Ballet Association, is a celebration of the passion for dance that brings artist and audience together. For an exciting season opener, Huntsville Ballet Unplugged offers an up close and personal performance in the intimate venue of the VBC Playhouse.
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Huntsville Ballet to perform 'Stars and Stripes' at Von Braun Center 4/4/11
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - Huntsville Ballet Company will present its annual spring performance next weekend at the Von Braun Center, called “Stars and Stripes” as a tribute to the military.

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A glimpse of backstage at The Nutcracker 12/10/10
See the story on Channel 48 WAFF TV's website.

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Ballet lovers visit Land of the Sweets 12/08/10
Like Clara and her nutcracker prince, supporters of the ballet took a beautiful journey to the Land of the Sweets.

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Huntsville Ballet Wins Eight Wings Awards

City Ballet On National Stage    
Monday, August 31, 2009
By Victoria Cumbow
Times Staff Writer

Documentary on dance in America starts in Alabama
This year's Nutcracker auditions at the Huntsville Ballet Company brought out more than students in pointe shoes - it brought lights, camera and action.

Read the story Community Ballet Association announces nominees for Virginia Hamill Simms Award
By Jon Busdeker, The Huntsville Times

Since 1968, volunteers interested in expanding Huntsville's arts community have been recognized with the Simms Award.
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Alabama State Council on the Arts director Al Head talks to The Times
By Jon Busdeker, The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE, AL -- Al Head has spent half of his life working for the arts.
In his 35 years of working for state arts councils, Head has created folk arts programs in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama. He's been on the Southern Arts Federation board since 1978. And the 61-tear-old has won awards for his achievements in promoting the arts.
Read the story Local arts volunteer Robbie Hallisey wins 2010 Virginia Hammill Simms Award
By Jon Busdeker, The Huntsville Times

On Tuesday night, Robbie Hallisey won the 2010 Virginia Hammill Simms Award during a ceremony at the Von Braun Center. HUNTSVILLE, AL - A surprised Robbie Hallisey first kissed her husband. Then she stood up, walked to the podium and accepted the 2010 Virginia Hammill Simms Awards.
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