AROVA explores the passion and dedication of Dame Sonia Arova, a Bulgarian Ballerina, who influenced the dance world a great deal. Among her many dance partners, she is known for partnering with Rudolf Nureyev, Erik Bruhn, and Thor Sutowski.

Her training during WWII shaped how she would train other dancers. Wisdom, physical strength, and emotional endurance were woven into each dancer she taught. This legacy of training has been passed down through her pupils and continues to live through current dancers and teachers today.

This project started while I was in film school at The Art Institute of Portland in Oregon. Coming from a ballet background, I grew up hearing stories about Sonia Arova from my mother. After diving into Sonia’s history, I discovered just how rich her story was. There are a handful of famous dancers of that generation that are well known: Fonteyn, Baryshnikov, Bruhn, and Nureyev. But there are so many others who were just as incredible, but stayed out of the lime light. Sonia fought for everything she had, from growing up in Bulgaria to surviving WWII to touring around Europe to landing in Birmingham, Alabama.

Her story deserves to be told.

Sonia Arova
Sonia Arova was born Sofia Aroff in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1926. In 1935, she went to Paris for advanced study with Russian ballerina Olga Preobrajenska. She was diagnosed with scoliosis and they said she wouldn’t be able to dance, however, she proved them wrong. Later, she escaped France to London during WWII. Once in London, she danced with the International Ballet Company. She went on to dance with many high profile companies including The Metropolitan Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and became artistic director of National Opera of Norway. In the 1980’s, she and her husband Thor Sutowski headed the dance department of the Alabama School of Fine Arts. In 2001, Sonia died of pancreatic cancer.

Director & Producer, Colleen Laeger
Colleen Laeger, born in Birmingham, Alabama grew up dancing in a family full of dancers and theater goers. She majored in Dance and graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts in 2008. In 2000 Colleen developed a fondness for story telling and began to pursue screenwriting and telling stories in film. She attended the Art Institute of Portland in the study of Digital Film & Video. She graduated in December 2011 after the screening of her documentary Arova.

Executive Producer, Therese Laeger
After performing with The Cleveland Ballet, Therese Laeger moved to Birmingham, Alabama to work with Choreographer, Thor Sutowski and Artistic Director, Dame Sonia Arova of the Alabama Ballet.  As a soloist and principal dancer, she performed both classical and neo- classical works by choreographers such as George Balanchine.  Continuing as Ballet Mistress and Assistant to the Artistic Director, she staged classical and neo-classical repertoire for the Alabama Ballet and the Atlanta Ballet. While teaching on the dance faculty of the Alabama School of Fine Arts (1980 -1996), she began to study various teaching methods from the Paris Opera School and Russia’s Vagonova method.  As Chair of the Alabama School of Fine Arts Dance Department (1997 – 2007), she brought an impressive roster of international teachers and choreographers to the school such as Fernando Bujones, Rebecca Wright, and Jorden Morris. Graduates from the program dance with ballet companies throughout America. Currently Artistic Associate of the AROVA Contemporary Ballet and adjunct faculty member for ballet in the Department of Theatre at the University of Montevallo, she focuses on teaching, coaching and continuing the legacy of Dame Sonia Arova.

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