In 1973 the Royal Ballet went on a historical tour to Brazil bringing 110 dancers including its star Margot Fonteyn to 85,000 people across the country. It was that year’s cultural highlight with tales of frenzied, roaring audiences and of scared, timid dancers who would not dare step onstage until Fonteyn’s reassurances that crowd commotions were entirely normal that side of the Atlantic. That one visit the Royal Ballet made to Brazil was a big deal and yet, you will have trouble finding any evidence of it (other than the very basic) online.
Fast forward to 2009. The Royal Ballet’s no less historical tour to Cuba (the first international ballet company to visit this ballet-addict nation in over 30 years) has just drawn to a close. If you are interested in following its trail you can not only google content posted by conventional media from all around the globe but also pictures posted by local residents, blog, tweets, Facebook groups, web discussion forums. We might not have been there, but thanks to all of this we can share in the occasion. And, unlike what happened to the Brazil tour material, 40 years from now large chunks of this may still be accessible in one way or another.
In the dance world (and more generally in the arts world) we’ve come a long way since Arnold Haskell, eminent critic & balletomania’s “patient zero”, spoke against filming ballet for posterity. If it weren’t for the rich and diverse ballet content on YouTube (questions of copyright aside) we might never have had so much exposure to foreign and/or vintage ballet performances. Ballet companies are realizing the importance of educating and engaging with its audience through every trendy social media means at its disposal to preserve the future of this art, though as Philip Kennicott rightly notes in this excellent article (found via Opera blog Intermezzo) there is still much room for improvement, both in content and approach.
Does their investment in social media pay off? This Forbes article claims the Royal Opera House had no significant box office boost through its Facebook and Twitter crowds. However, the article does not clarify how they correlated Facebook use and ticket buying. One example: whilst we have not increased our theatre bookings because of Facebook and Twitter the fact that these channels are there and that through them we can find people who share common interests and passions has improved our cultural experience as audience members. And if we miss out on an interesting performance due to, for instance, geographical barriers it is now possible to feel as if we are “virtually there”.
Look no further than the recent Oregon Ballet rescue campaign, which reached fever pitch thanks to social media, for an example of its potential to be effective. Perhaps it’s too early to tell whether these new marketing avenues will lead to more ticket sales but it certainly will lead to a more cultured audience, breaking of geographical barriers and maybe turning a ballet microcosm into an universe. At least that’s what we would like to see happen in the near future.
Compare & Contrast
Because we are avid consumers of social media and keen “ballet networkers” we thought of comparing & contrasting, from an audience perspective, some international ballet companies and their approach to these new marketing channels. Below we opine on what works for us and what we’d like to see if we could call any shots. We’d also love to hear about what works for those reading this post so feel free to weigh in!
The Headstarters (in alphabetical order)
What’s working: A great Facebook group with a library of pictures and interesting updates (that’s where we first heard of Veronika Part on Letterman). Very good ballet education content on main website including online dictionary and ballet synopses. They also have content rich micro sites for certain ballets.
What we’d love to see: ABT is not yet on Twitter or YouTube. Their website is more substance than form, we’re all for that but a little bit more styling would be welcome. The ballet “micro sites” can be hard to locate too.
What’s working: Partnering with interactive agency AKQA in their social media project was a wise move. NYCB is “everywhere out there”: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the quality of the content is good and generally in sync throughout all platforms. Their website strikes a great balance between style and substance, with heavy emphasis on education.
What we’d love to see: The biggest downside is the “no comment policy” on YouTube videos. Likewise, their Facebook page does not show Fan & NYCB’s wall postings on the same spot, which effectively means reader comments are not visible. There may be a wish to prevent flippant comments & rogue users (esp. those heated debates that take place on YouTube, we understand) but surely anything abusive can be easily deleted. Some DVD releases would also be extremely welcome.
What’s working: Like NYCB, the ROH’s new media project is completely cross-platform with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They have a very stylish website and seriously eye catching marketing campaigns. The open air and cinema screenings are also a huge bonus and have viral potential.
What we’d like to see: They had started a Royal Ballet blog project last year during the China tour but this seems to have stalled. Perhaps blogging is too time consuming but we’d love to see more rehearsal material, pictures and short snippets of the artist’s & staff’s angle, perhaps elsewhere if not on the blog. The videos are fantastic if a little hard to locate, same with other educational content on their website. The FB and Twitter postings could also be juicier.
Other Notable Headstarters:
Birmingham Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and Dutch National Ballet (all with high quality educational videos), Scottish Ballet, ENB & Houston Ballet (for their tweets), The Joffrey and San Francisco Ballet (for their tweets and great blog postings).
The “Catcher uppers”
Their recently developed new media initiative launched an English language (impressive!) YouTube channel and a Facebook group. We’d love to see them on Twitter and more educational content on their website. But perhaps our biggest wishlist item would be cinema screenings of selected pieces which they do not typically tour and which we cannot always travel to Russia to catch!
They might not be fully social media operative yet but their website certainly looks the part with plenty of content in English and a great selection of press photos which are available to download. Their principal dancers have an official Facebook group. We’d love to see them on all platforms, the world needs to learn more about this treasure of a company.
The “Cozy Comforters”
As far as we know, none of these companies have launched into social media despite their international visibility. POB banks mainly on their DVD releases and La Scala on cinema screenings. Both are honorable efforts but we would also like to see them boosting their multimedia and educational content, same goes for the Bolshoi. Even better if they all start a Facebook/Twitter initiative.
What’s next in new media and social media?
Same time relays/IPlayers
As all these ballet companies start to explore the opportunities of new media, what will it take to really be “Virtually There”? There is a maze of content in all forms which could be aggregated across the various media forms, in a centralized way to help the audiences find exactly what they are looking for. With many companies becoming increasingly innovative they should push the boundaries from a Tweet here, a Videoclip and a Facebook posting there to lead the way and make ballet increasingly more accessible (in all senses of the word) with dynamic multi -platform strategies.
Our note on the best dance pages on Facebook [Link]
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