When Tony nominations are announced on May 5, it’s not a stretch to guess that Broadway super-hit Billy Elliot: The Musical will receive at least a few nods. Elton John’s score and Peter Darling’s choreography have both made a splash. But the scene-stealers are the young boys who alternate in the title role.
All three have impressive dance resumés, but the buzz in the ballet world is David Alvarez, a 14-year-old scholarship student at American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. The Montréal native began turning heads in New York City four years ago when he auditioned for JKO. Instead of attending a typical cattle call audition, Alvarez was thrown into ABT company class. Undeterred, he performed with enough confidence and épaulement to rival some of the company’s principals.
Since then, Alvarez has been focused intently on his dream of joining ABT. Initially, he didn’t even want to audition for Billy Elliot. “I’d seen the movie and liked it, but I’m not a huge Broadway fan,” he says. He decided to try out after the casting director called JKO looking for talented male students and his teacher recommended him.
Alvarez had to train for six months in acting, singing and tap dancing before the producers told him he was cast as Billy. “It was really frustrating not knowing if I’d gotten the part. It was such hard work—I didn’t want to be doing it all for nothing,” he says. Nonetheless, he kept at it. “It was a great opportunity to play a principal role. And I felt like a lot of things might happen because of it.”
Alvarez says the most difficult skill to master was speaking with a British Midlands dialect, since English is his third language, after Spanish and French. Nailing Billy’s tap numbers was also a challenge. “But,” he notes, “in the future it will definitely help me as a dancer to know other styles than just ballet.”
On top of training, rehearsals and three performances a week, Alvarez still takes three to four technique classes at JKO. He believes his ballet background has given him the stamina to make it through the grueling schedule without getting injured.
Alvarez plans to return to training full-time at JKO as soon as he finishes with Billy. But he hopes to bring with him the more relaxed attitude he’s learned from Broadway: “In ballet class, I often stress myself out and go crazy if anything’s not right. But in the Broadway world, people just have fun with it. I like that. Being in Billy has taught me to enjoy performing more—even when it’s not perfect.”