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In the last two years Twitter has widely grown in popularity. Even though it has been labeled a fad like other social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, etc.), it continues to flourish and establish itself as one of the most effective and versatile social media channels.

Twitter can be used as a tool for staying in touch with friends and family, as a real-time search engine, as an information outlet and in many other ways. Over here we use it for networking with dance fans, companies, writers, dancers and choreographers anywhere around the globe. We have been positively surprised with the amount of information we can exchange and use for spreading, together with other ballet fans, the notion that “Ballet Rocks!”.

We are enthusiastic about the use of social media to promote inclusion and attract new audiences to certain art forms. It is an effective way to get a message across and we certainly approve of art organisations jumping onto the bandwagon. But many of these organisations have been too hasty in embracing social media and have no clear strategy, goals or any understanding of how to leverage off these channels. We have often seen new Twitter users quickly become wall spammers (ie. overpromoting their services with little additional information or dialogue with followers) or adopt erratic tweeting behaviour (ie. short bursts of activity followed by prolonged silence).

But aren’t we all on Twitter to promote a service anyway? Most Twitter sceptics view it as a self-promotion wasteland, but given that it has little or no impact on box office sales why do companies even bother maintaining a Twitter presence? And how can they improve their Twitter strategy, toning down on spamming and overpromotion? These are the questions we attempt to answer below:

How can dance companies use Twitter

  • As a promotional tool: It can be used for announcements, providing related links, to launch competitions, promotions and engage audiences.

  • As a networking resource: to seek solutions and get real-time feedback. Direct questions/polls can be used to profile audiences without the need to chase after statistical studies or  feedback forms. Any Twitter user can also get live information and find what audiences are talking about via Twitter Search + relevant keywords.

  • To engage/maintain a dialogue with followers: to learn about audience demographics and understand which areas need to be developed/focused on.
  • As a live feed/relaying events, helping international followers feel included in an event (@RoyalOperaHouse did a great job with their BP summer screenings and their Twitter Opera project). A core network of  followers (ie. a community of supporters) can also help spread the company’s news/events via retweeting or RT’ing (ie. forwarding information).

Practical examples:

@DutchNatBallet, @mariinskyen and @nycballet do great links to videos & production photos.

@BRB, @BostonBallet, @MiamiCityBallet, @sfballet link to interesting related blog posts & articles, as well as programme notes, pictures, casting details, etc.

@BRB, @paballet @NBTlive @ScottishBallet and @BalletBlack are examples of companies who often engage, retweet and exchange tweets with their followers. They even post job vacancies from time to time.

How can dancers use Twitter

Dancers lead very busy lives running from class to rehearsal, from rehearsal to performance, so why should they waste what little spare time they have on Twitter?

  • It can help dispel myths regarding their profession and provide a glimpse into their daily activities, without getting too personal (ie. unlike the concept of “Facebook friends”).

  • It can help them build relationships and engage with fans and audiences in general. Interviews and traditional media features might be forgotten or skipped, whereas Twitter is a continuous flow, helping the dancer maintain an internet presence.

  • It can help them network with other dancers, choreographers and in the case of freelance performers, dance companies and festivals.

There might be a preconceived notion that Twitter, like Facebook, is “just another place for procrastination”. However, Twitter is the least intrusive of all social media tools: it can be accessed from any mobile phone and it takes less than a minute to compose a 140 character message. Twitter is based on linear messaging (displayed as a timeline) so there is no additional browsing, photo albums to maintain, no Farmville games and such to divert one’s attention.

Examples of dancers who are great on Twitter: @Bennet76, @balletrusse, @MadisonKeesler, @ashleybouder, @daniil, @EvanMcKIE,  and @MarijnRademaker, among others.

How NOT to Tweet

  • Don’t spam. Followers need to be interested and care about the information they get. Too much, and they will lose interest. Too little and what’s the point? Don’t say it all at once, spread your tweets during the day.
  • Don’t be a one-track mind. People will be quick to unfollow if your ticketing or product page is the only thing you tweet. Post articles of interest, blog posts, reviews, polls… the sky is the limit.
  • Don’t be self-centered. It is good “Twitter etiquette” to retweet (RT), ie. give credit to whom credit is due. It is all about spreading the word.
  • Don’t just talk & talk. Twitter is a social network and as such is built on relationships. One cannot build a relationship if there are no conversations. As you speak, followers listen & if they reply to your tweet or ask a question they want to know you are listening back. Do respond.

Why should companies, dancers, etc., follow others?

There are several Twitter strategies. Over here for instance, we might not follow everyone back but that’s because we try to keep track of those we do follow and their individual posts (It would be impossible to pay attention to everything that’s being said if we reciprocated all the follows). However, if someone we do not follow engages with us or asks us a question we will always engage back. This seems to us a more authentic way to establish a dialogue.

Another strategy is to follow everyone back and use certain filters (via TweetDeck or another third party Twitter application) to  keep track of only the tweets that are relevant to you. The disadvantage here is that tweets “slip through the net” and if you are an active user you might be missing out on potentially relevant information.

The punch line: We do not think Twitter is another social media fad. Major companies and individuals have embraced it as a tool which can be used for:

  • Promoting events, content, and to spread the news.
  • Building a community. Be generous and reciprocate.
  • Sharing your thoughts, ideas and links.
  • Providing a live summary/description of events or presentations.
  • Thanking your audiences.

Further Information on Twitter and how to use it:

  1. Twitter? It’s What You Make It by David Pogue. State of the Art Column at The New York Times, February 2009. [link]
  2. Why Twitter Will Endure by David Carr. The New York Times, January, 2010.  [link]
  3. How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live by Steven Johnson. Time, Business & Tech. Jun 2009. [link]

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bb_awards_09

As we prepare to send off 2009 and embrace a new decade, we look back into what was hot, fun & fab around the ballet blogosphere to pick our favorite things this year. Feel free to share yours too.

Favorite Blog Posts

Haglund Heel’s “ABT needs a Mayerling” campaign

The coolest ballet campaign of the year. We keep on crossing our fingers & sending positive vibes for Mayerling to be part of ABT’s repertory someday. We’d definitely cross the Atlantic to see Marcelo Gomes as Crown Prince Rudolf.

You Dance Funny on the mess with “Swan Lake’s third act Pas de Deux”

We love uncovering mysteries à la Sherlock Holmes / Dr. Gregory House.  Divalicious prima ballerina decides she doesn’t like the score for her Swan Lake 3rd Act solo and asks Ludwig Minkus to write another one. This in turn bothers the original composer, a certain Mr. Tchaikovsky, who then writes a second version which never makes it to the final cut after all. Complicated? This could very well yield material for a soap opera.

Bloggerina meets Mr. Clement Crisp

Once upon a time our favorite ballet critic, Mr. Clement Crisp, went on a trip to Canada to see a triple bill composed entirely of new ballets, something sadly unthinkable in our neck of the woods. He met the Toronto ballet audience & spoke about what can be done to ensure the future of ballet. We were left very jealous…

Bella Figura’s Make your own Ballet Xmas in Paris

While Eurostar #FAIL would have surely prevented us from celebrating a balletic Xmas in Paris this year, this post provided us a much needed insight into the pick and mix of POB‘s casting. We are very curious about the darkest of all Nutcrackers and we might be more than tempted next December when the Mariinsky will also be in town. The post also offers a witty description of a certain Bolshoi star who has a habit of hanging on to theatre curtains.

Demicontretemps’s “If Ballet Stars were comic book heroes”

We love graphic novels, comic books and movie adaptations of both. We also often imagine deathmatches between our favorite ballet stars… if only we could pitch this idea to MTV. In this very funny post Eric Taub imagines Ballet dancers as drawn by famous comic book artists.

Veronika Part on Wolcott and Swan Lake Samba Girl

She is one of the most glamorous things to have happened to ballet. Just as gossip started to circulate that she would leave ABT she turned the tables on the rumour mill and bagged a promotion for Principal and a spot on David Letterman. May she long continue to fascinate us.

Favorite Tweets/Social Media Stuff

Sanjoy Roy on How dance companies must embrace the internet. The Guardian dance writer Sanjoy Roy picks up on the Ketinoa debate.

Hedi Slimane’s short film featuring Royal Danish Ballet’s Oscar Nielssen rocking and phrasing beaten steps to the music of Supershine drummer Matthias Sarsgaard. We said it before and will say it again: Ballet Rocks! (as tweeted by @hedislimanetwit)

Crankocast – Who would you be cast as in a Cranko ballet? Over here we got the two Taming of the Shrew sisters, one for each Bag Lady. Spooky! How did they know? (as tweeted by Stuttgart Ballet Principal dancer @EvanMcKie)

Charlotte MacMillan’s Mayerling photos at The Arts Desk – breathtakingly sinister studio shots of one of our favorite dark ballets with one of our favorite casts (as tweeted by @Macmillanballet)

Mariinsky in Japan Little Humpbacked Horse photos – mouthwatering candy store-like pictures of the Ratmansky ballet we are dying to see (as tweeted by the lovely @naomip86 – our Japanese ballet guru)

Favorite Ballet Bag Stuff

Interviews – Three fabulous leading dancers with each of the Mariinsky, the Royal Ballet and ABT. Three very distinct personalities which resulted in very different interviews. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we did. We are crossing our fingers for more.

Bridge Over Troubled Water & other Social media posts – We are big believers in the power of social media. All of these posts were great fun to write & some even managed to stir some controversy (see Sanjoy Roy article above).

Supermassive Black Hole – Our resident physicist analysed BRB’s new ballet based on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Perfect for the job.

Grace – This was a tough cookie. Someone asked in our Facebook group if we could write something about the ballerina’s grace. It was hard to put a subjective concept into words but we really liked the final product, not least because it gave us a chance to quote from Pride and Prejudice.

Last but not least

Our favorite Dances of the Decade

Our favorite Dance articles of 2009 (Conventional Media)

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Dear Santa,

We know we had a lucky year with many wonderful ballet tickets filling our bags. We had a great time writing over here and making plenty of new friends on Twitter and Facebook some of whom we had the pleasure of meeting in person.

Having managed to strike a good balance between work & play we feel we now deserve some ballet candy for the new year. We’d happily trade that wonderful Rodarte dress or that anything Chanel we have coveted over the years for a few of these treats so, here’s what the Bag Ladies would really really like. Please and thank you.

  • More NYCB, ABT and Mariinsky stars guesting with the Royal Ballet. If Evgenia Obraztsova, Ekaterina Osmolkina and Yvonne Borree did so well over here in The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Dances at a Gathering why can’t we have them more often and while you’re at it, can you please bring Ashley Bouder and Marcelo Gomes too?

  • Royal Ballet revivals of Onegin, Song of the Earth and La Sylphide with plenty of new casting delights… and preferably with Steven McRae as James.

  • Much smaller doses of such stalwarts as The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake or at least new designs for the latter. Yolanda Sonnabend’s are appreciated but they are starting to betray their age. If we are going to visit the lake once more let us see some different settings and costumes.

  • A new narrative ballet that is not based on a children’s tale. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not that we are not looking forward to Wheeldon’s Alice in Wonderland, but a while back we had this interesting discussion on Twitter and concluded there are so many books which would lend themselves wonderfully into ballet scripts. We’re thinking the whole Jane Austen canon, the Russian classics, plus some Edith Wharton & Henry James.

  • Sneak previews. If ballet seasons are planned so long in advance, we’d like to see the major ballet companies slipping some bits of information/trivia/teasers on what’s coming next or fueling discussion in their Facebook/Twitter pages like ABT did recently. Call us greedy but it’s more hype for them, less suspense for us. Everyone wins.

  • More visits from foreign companies. It’s time the Mariinsky  treated us to a full-length Ratmansky ballet (yes we do mean The Little Humpbacked Horse). ABT could follow suit and show us On the Dnieper instead of Le Corsaire and Don Q. (yawn, yawn). And let us not forget that Ms. Diana Vishneva still owes us a visit since pulling out of the Mariinsky season at Sadler’s Wells (2008) at short notice. Can you pls. give her the nudge?
  • Can we have more ballet companies embracing social media? We have great fun browsing SFB’s blog, ABT’s pictures and looking at NYCB, Mariinsky and Royal Ballet videos, but perhaps the Paris Opera Ballet and the Bolshoi can also follow suit?
  • Less injuries. This we wish for every dancer in every company out there.

Many thanks again. Don’t forget to grab your box of cupcakes from underneath the Christmas tree. We know how you like the Christmas pudding special from The Primrose Bakery.

    xoxo,

    Emilia & Linda

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Things have changed a lot in the last century in terms of technological advances and ways to exchange information. This means people have changed as well, with new generations becoming harder to impress and more likely to spend time in front of the TV or computer where everything can be found at the click of a button,  their attention spans increasingly shorter. This also means that the arts have had to adapt to this new era, juggling the interests of established audiences with a desire to attract new ones.

Ballet in particular has been faced with various dilemmas. In addition to arts budgets which stifle creativity in favour of bankable productions, preconceptions about the art form have been passed on from one generation to the next, resulting in core audiences largely formed by the wealthy and/or the senior. However, ballet companies continue to seek new and younger ballet audiences, making increased use of social media channels. This week, for instance, the Royal Opera House announced the launch of a new iTunes channel where ballet and opera masterclasses and other educational videos can be downloaded into one’s iPod within seconds (and free of charge).

These new avenues will not necessarily change the mindsets of those who are used to associating ballet with snobbery and inaccesibility but at least they make it easier for all of us to try. And try we must. In this post we take a stab at tackling some of the biggest misconceptions about ballet. We challenge those of you who have never been to a performance to try it (and do tell us about it ). It is never too late and you might be – positively – surprised.

Myth #1

Ballet is all about old fashioned tales of Nutcrackers, Sleeping Beauties and Swan Lakes. It revolves around princes and fairies, tutus and men in tights.

First things first: Princesses in tutus are 19th century ballet symbols. While it’s true that ballet companies still go back to the bankability of old classics, especially in our credit crunched times, ballet did manage to evolve beyond that garment over the years. A revolution took place when Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes steamrolled their own artistic movement out of Russia, spreading their view of dance as art and as a way of life in the early 20th century, nurturing revolutionary minds that had a long-lasting impact on the art. If tutus are not your thing, don’t despair, there are plenty of alternatives.

Your Prescription: Go see a full length MacMillan ballet. Try a Balanchine Black and White (ie. pared down) ballet such as Agon or The Four Temperaments.

Watch the documentary “The Story of Ballets Russes” this Friday on BBC4.

Myth #2

All ballets are the same, if you don’t enjoy one then ballet is definitely not for you

As one of our Twitter buddies, Robbintheoffice, puts it: if you go see a movie and don’t enjoy it, you don’t stop going to the cinema altogether, right? But for some people, one ballet they don’t like will be enough to put them off for life. Before you decide that ballet is definitely not for you try at least a few different styles and schools. If you don’t like a 19th century classic or a Romantic ballet maybe you will like a MacMillan ballet. If you are not keen on narrative ballet perhaps abstract plotless works might win you over? Mix and match.

Your Prescription: A mixed bill containing at least one contemporary or new work to give you a flavor for which style may suit you best.

Edward Watson in Glen Tetley's Sphinx, part of a Mixed Bill. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

Myth #3

Ballet is too expensive

Ballet can be expensive but so can theatre and musicals. If you can afford tickets for U2 or Madonna, Hairspray or Legally Blonde The Musical, then ballet prices should not come as a shock. The key is to book as early as possible (first day of public booking) or as late as possible (day tickets and returns). Depending on the ballet, you should be able to find a midrange seat for less than £50. For as little as £20 you can grab a seat in the amphiteatre sides or – if you are not keen on heights – stalls circle benches with restricted views are generally good value for money. For the price of a cinema ticket you can bag a supervalue day standing place or perhaps even a ticket for the ballet at your local cinema screen.

Your Prescription: Experiment with different amphiteatre seats or stalls circle bench seats to see which suit you best. Buy very early or very late. Read this post.

Myth #4

Ballet is formal, snobbish, elitist & not for young people

Fair enough, classical ballet does draw formal, older crowds especially in the area around the Stalls and Grand circles. But this should not intimidate you, there will be representatives of every kind of demographics in the house, from Bermuda guys to Oscar de la Renta ladies. And if you attend a Wayne McGregor premiere at the Royal Opera House you could gather enough material for an anthropological study about diversity in ballet audiences, quite the opposite of your preconception.

Your Prescription: any work by Wayne McGregor, David Bintley’s Cyrano, or Wheeldon’s company Morphoses. Read this post about dress codes, etc. at Intermezzo blog.

Federico Bonelli and Sarah Lamb in Wayne McGregor's stylish Chroma. Photo: Johan Persson / ROH ©

Myth #5

Ballet is boring, sickly sweet, definitely not cool

As we said before: different ballets for different people. Are there sickly sweet ballets? Yes. Boring ballets? Most definitely. But what I might find sickly or boring is completely different to what the person next to me will. If you want your ballets loaded with substance you might want to start with something dramatic like Manon or Mayerling, the anthitesis of sweet. Or if you want to explore something that looks sweet but which can still punch you in the gut you can try Bournonville’s La Sylphide. If you are looking for purely cool, then try modern ballets by edgy choreographers.

Your Prescription: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s E=mc2 (one of the coolest things we saw this year) Wayne McGregor, Michael Clark Company, the Ballet Boyz.

Gaylene Cummerfield, Tom Rogers & Matthew Lawrence in Bintley's E=mc2. Photo: Bill Cooper / BRB ©

Myth #6

Ballet is not for men, it’s a girly thing

Actually most of the 20th century was dominated by superstar male dancers: Baryshnikov anyone (if you don’t know much about ballet you will at least have heard of him in Sex and The City)? Dancers like him were instrumental in inspiring future generations of male ballet dancers. Don’t believe us? Then follow the various male dancers and male ballet enthusiasts on Twitter, there are quite a few of them sharing their experiences from both sides of the curtain.

Your Prescription: Read this post written by a guy about going to the ballet for the first time. Go see a Carlos Acosta & Friends show or watch Acosta dancing Spartacus, the balletic equivalent of Russell Crowe in Gladiator (it’s available on DVD).

Male Power: Carlos Acosta as Des Grieux in MacMillan's Manon. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

Myth #7

One needs to understand ballet in depth in order to enjoy it

Another cool thing about ballet (by the way, have we mentioned that we think ballet is cool?) is that it can be understood in many ways, there are no rules, nothing prescribed about what you should be taking away from a performance. Of course preparation pays off, especially when it comes to narrative or semi-narrative ballets. Reading the story and knowing a bit of the background will help, though it is by no means mandatory. An eye for detail helps too but, most of all, you will need an open and contemplative mind.

Your Prescription: A bit of googling before a performance goes a long way. Try to read the reviews (but try not to be too influenced by them), see what people are saying about the ballet you are planning to see on different social media channels and forums or – shameless promotion – over here at The Ballet Bag.

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Marie Taglioni. Coloured Lithograph, circa 1831. From the V&A Theatre Museum © Source: Wikipedia

Marie Taglioni. Coloured Lithograph, circa 1831. From the V&A Theatre Museum © Source: Wikipedia

From the moment Marie Taglioni put on her ballet shoes and stood on pointe the cult of the ballerina took flight. The ballerina, the female expert in the art of ballet who lives and suffers for her art, is forever associated with intrinsic qualities of lightness and grace. But just like Mr. Darcy’s remarks on truly accomplished women (“no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with… she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved”), should we not also comprehend a great deal in our idea of a graceful dancer?

A while ago we were asked by one of our Facebook group members to write a comment on what makes a dancer graceful. This post attempts to approach this delicate topic (since not every ballerina is a synonym for gracefulness) from an audience perspective. Technique, which forms the basis, the backbone of a dancer’s art, is an objective measure. But grace, like artistry, is subjective and largely depends on the eye of the beholder. For evidence of that one only needs to take a tour of ballet on YouTube.

Pick a male or female dancer you like, watch a selection of videos featuring that dancer and try to form your own views. Then read the various comments in reaction to his or her performance: for every person who finds your chosen dancer graceful there will always be a dissenting voice. The FT critic Peter Aspden made interesting remarks on this when he wrote a very interesting article about the Mariinsky’s Alina Somova, a controversial dancer who continues to spark inflamed debate on YouTube and on ballet related web boards because of her use of extreme extensions in classical ballet. Some, like Aspden, perceive her as extremely graceful, while others see exactly the opposite.

Ballet is a contemplative art and to use another visual art parallel, there is no way to convince someone who prefers Impressionism to Cubism that Picasso is artistically superior to Monet. There are ways, however, to draw an observer’s attention to details they might have previously overlooked in a painting, to steer his or her eyes towards features which might lead to a reassessment of that work of art. So whilst we cannot define grace, here are some elements which we think would naturally emanate from a graceful dancer:

  • Good Line – as Robert Greskovic notes: “true ballet line has little to do with the dancer’s limbs and everything to do with the harmonious coordination of each part seen as a totality.” A good line emanates from the dancer’s centre to reach out to all compass points of his or her body, think a beacon irradiating from the lighthouse. For an example of a good line see Anthony Dowell executing Des Grieux‘s first act solo [link]

  • Port de Bras (carriage of the arms) – of course a good dancer must display perfect coordination between legs, feet, torso, arms, hands, neck and head, but soft, pliant arms help accentuate the gracefulness of the whole movement, to emphasize its poetry. Here one can draw an interesting comparison between male and female dancers: male port de bras is simpler and sharper to make them look more virile, stronger, their line more visible, while the female arms are more laboured, making them look more delicate (see this post for more Port de Bras comparisons). For an example of graceful arms, see Ulyana Lopatkina in Swan Lake [link]

  • Musicality – the most obvious way to define a musical dancer is to think of the music box ballerina cliché. A highly musical dancer will trick you into forgetting about the orchestra pit and thinking that his or her movement is creating the music, so well they are matched. It goes beyond being technically precise. Of course, it should be noted that choreographers will treat music differently and the dance can either be on top of the melody or purposefully dissociated from the music, as is the case in certain modern choreography (ie. Merce Cunningham). A dancer that is often acknowledged as having been extremely musical was Balanchine‘s muse, Suzanne Farrell.

  • Physical qualities – one cannot underestimate the importance of well proportioned limbs and a beautiful face in ballet. On the other hand there are dancers who have broken the mold, redefining the concept of perfect proportions. These can be some of the most exciting dancers to watch because they transform what might have been perceived as a drawback into strength and create a form of unconventional grace. For examples of dancers who break the mold, see Alina Somova and Edward Watson making the most of their elastic and slender physiques in, respectively, Ratmansky’s The Little Humpbacked Horse [link] and Wayne McGregor’s production of Händel’s Acis & Galatea [link].

And here we feature some of our favorite graceful dancers who combine all the elements above. Feel free to post yours if you have one!

Sarah Lamb as Princess Florine (Bluebird Pas de Deux)

Sarah seems to be floating on a cloud of dance, her movements so light and fluid, every step a music note.

Alina Cojocaru as Cinderella

This is probably one of the most enchanting ballet videos on YouTube, Alina is simply radiant, never exposing to the audience the pitfalls of Ashton’s choreograpy (which demands from the dancer coordination between a soft upper body and fast feet)

Gelsey Kirkland as Giselle

This is a beautiful rendition of the famous Spessivtseva solo (Giselle’s first act variation) in which every single movement is linked into a whole. Notice how softly she gets down from arabesque into penché, her arms lingering with the music.

Viktoria Tereshkina as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty

While the dancers above represent the “ethereal and petite ballerina” we have a contrasting example in Tereshkina, a tall dancer who looks poised, elegant yet delicate in one of the most graceful choreographies in classical ballet.

Natalia Makarova as Odette (Swan Lake)

Around 3:39 you can see Odette’s variation. Makarova was the quintessential ballerina, a perfect match between technique and artistry: every step is used as a means for conveying emotion. A really graceful and touching performance.

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We are lucky to be part of a group of people who can regularly attend ballet performances and who are exposed to a wide repertoire and various choreographers, but a huge percentage of dance fans around the globe are unable to do so, either because their location limits access to local or visiting ballet companies and/or because of cost. Add to that the fact that ballet on television is a rare event (for evidence one only needs to check the BBC4 programming for this autumn) and that DVDs are expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain outside North America and Europe. So how do these fans get their ballet fix?  In the past they would subscribe to magazines, buy illustrated books and hope to catch a live performance once in a while. Nowadays the web is their one stop shop.

Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova. Photo: Anthony Crickmay / V&A Museum © Source: Vandaprints

Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova. Photo: Anthony Crickmay / V&A Museum © Source: Vandaprints

Thanks to the web and its wealth of materials about companies, choreographers, evolution of technique, and legendary dancers from the past (footage of their performances are a constant source of learning and inspiration for today’s dancers)  breaking down geographical barriers and educating not only future dancers but also global dance audiences is becoming more practical and viable. In this context, tools like YouTube and other streaming video sharing websites are helping make ballet more democratic and accessible, despite their imperfections and drawbacks (for instance the delicate issue of copyright regulations).

In an ideal world, streaming video content would be broadcast directly from or with the blessing of the copyright owner but in reality the bulk of ballet videos on the internet has been uploaded by private collectors. Although there are several companies with a strong YouTube presence – see our Virtually There post –  if you are searching for ballet videos you will most likely fall upon filmed performances or broadcasts that might not even be part of official company archives (as is probably the case with rare footage of virtuoso dancers from the Soviet era) shared by individuals who in one way or another have obtained them.

Leaving aside the questions of intellectual property and copyright law for a moment, as well as the definition of “fair use”  – although we agree that  posting an entire ballet performance can hardly be categorised in such a way – it seems that commercial gain is not the driver for most of these YouTube users who share their content freely. Profit or not,  some will liken these actions to “stealing” since these  accounts are effectively broadcasting someone else’s work without permission or payment of royalties, both of which are impracticable for a private user. So in most cases the YouTube user will upload content anyway until the copyright owner, wishing to prevent its ballets to be copied (and staged by non authorized companies) or otherwise, objects and submits a claim to YouTube.

youtubeBut is it all bad news for the  copyright owner? On the flip side, YouTube provides an opportunity for free promotion of the arts. The BBC tolerates private users uploading their copyrighted material onto YouTube simply because they consider this generates more publicity and free marketing for them. The same logic could be applied to ballet and ballet companies. For instance, those who live far from the Royal Ballet or from any other major ballet company might be more likely to purchase a DVD or travel to see signature ballets such as MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet or Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee if they can sample one or more extracts on YouTube first.

What could be done to conciliate both interests? Perhaps sharing video could in the future work like curatorships? As in the case of a private collector who will lend its Monet to be displayed by a museum where the public will have access to a rarely seen work, if one tweaked this concept (as here the “video owner” is not really the true owner and low quality image does not substitute real performance) and applied it to YouTube one could argue that the greater good is allowing art to be admired by everyone. Again, not everyone can afford a Monet or maybe have the opportunity of admiring it in person. But since it is an acknowledged masterpiece, shouldn’t it be fair for everyone to see it or on the least, have a taster/teaser?

Let us focus on a recent example. The YouTube Ketinoa channel contained over 1300 videos of Mariinsky & Bolshoi ballets, including extracts of rehearsals, Vaganova Academy examinations, class syllabus, new and vintage performances. Steering clear from the issue of who owns the copyright, this channel served as a film archive accessible to anyone wishing to further educate themselves or simply to enjoy great ballet extracts, with user comments largely praising its content. Last month this channel was suspended because it was found to contain a small subset of copyright protected videos featuring ballets by Balanchine. The claim was submitted on behalf of the Balanchine Trust, the body in charge of protecting the legacy of that choreographer. Assuming the channel owner received a notification asking for immediate removal of the offending videos, if he/she complied then the account could be re-activated, provided offending videos were not re-uploaded. But YouTube could also have pre-emptively suspended the account without notice to protect itself from any potential lawsuit, in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (US), which seems to have been the case with the Ketinoa channel, based on claims by ongoing campaigns to save it (see first link in this paragraph).

We think it is a shame that because of a small subset of videos a whole archive of Mariinsky/Bolshoi rare videos should vanish for good and it seems that petitioning is the only way for YouTube to re-establish the channel (minus offending videos of course). If you were a subscriber or a user of the Ketinoa channel and would like to see it restored you can write to copyright@youtube.com.

We acknowledge that ballet in YouTube is a delicate topic but we would like to invite discussion from all sides of the debate, so feel free to leave a comment here or weigh in via our Facebook & Twitter.

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As UK audiences flocked to catch free ballet & opera performances via the BP/ROH summer screenings, The Times, invited by Royal Opera House (ROH) Chief Executive Tony Hall for a chat during the broadcast of Ondine at Trafalgar Square, ran an article which accentuated one of the biggest opera world dividers in the following line:

…the ROH does not just cater for the arts snobs who can afford the £380 ticket in the Grand tier

While the article focused largely on the ROH’s accessibility campaign via UK-wide free screenings and cinema distribution across Europe, it was hard to ignore the hint of inaccessibility suggested in the above quote. Most newspaper articles covering this initiative tend to adopt the same tone of “it’s either opera in cinema or top seats in the house”, intentionally or not leaving out the seating layers in between and perpetuating the notion that only the rich can afford an evening at the ballet or opera. By pushing these two extremes at the general public, the media is preserving the snobbish/elitist perception of these art forms. The point about cinema is simply that it can reach a wider, global audience for an extended period (ie. months vs. weeks in the case of live performances), not necessarily that it is so much cheaper than attending a performance at the opera house.

The article made me think back on a brief conversation I had on the tube a while ago. I was slightly dressed up so a man next to me asked if I was going to Covent Garden. I responded I was on my way to a performance at the ROH. Upon probing further he finally asked how could students afford the cost of a ticket. My  reply that the ticket in question had only cost me £12, and that there were times in which I could get into the theatre for even less via the Student Standby scheme, seemed to surprise him greatly.

Royal Opera House. Photo: Peter Mackertich / ROH ©. Source: BAFTA.com

Royal Opera House. Photo: Peter Mackertich / ROH ©. Source: BAFTA.com

Turning this debate into  figures: irrespective of ticket prices, ballet and opera companies are non-profit organisations which are supported by citizens, in North America via donations and in Europe via taxes. For instance, the ROH has an annual grant equivalent to (approx) £27.5M in public money to fund both the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera. In return for the subsidy the company must seek to broaden its audience. The ROH receives a further £15.3M from donations and legacies, and box office takings of around  £35.6M (based on last year’s figures, a healthy number for recession times). When added, the previous numbers indicate that the ROH generates more than £2 for every £1 given by the government grant, thus avoiding deficit and justifying public spending on it. To keep its side of the bargain, recent changes have increased the costs for a top tier ticket whilst creating cheaper seats in certain areas of the house. In 2008, a quarter of the tickets were cheaper than £30 for full-length ballet productions (costing less in the case of shorter works), with the least expensive tickets costing a mere £6.

In 2008, The Guardian published the following “top tickets” price comparison:

  • The Royal Opera £210
  • British Grand Prix (formula 1) £169 / per day
  • Glastonbury (music festival) £155 / per weekend
  • Men’s Final Wimbledon (tennis) £91
  • Hairspray (musical), London’s West End £60
  • The God of Carnage (play), London’s West End £47.50
  • Odeon (cinema) Leicester Square £17.50

A more up to date web search returns the following price estimates:

  • Chicago,(musical) West End: £25 – £59 + £4.50 service charge
  • The Royal OperaCarmen: Grand tier £210 – £880, Stalls £14- £219, Balcony £14-240, Amphitheatre £9-£97.90
  • The Royal BalletThe Sleeping Beauty: Grand tier £110 – £480, Stalls £10-£120, Balcony £10-£170, Amphitheatre £6 – £70
  • Hamlet starring Jude Law, West End: £32.95 – £42.75
  • Coldplay (music) at Wembley Stadium: £44 – £63 + £4.50 service charge
  • U2 (music) at Wembley Stadium: £61 – £93.50 + £4.50 service charge
  • Odeon cinema (non central) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: £9.00 – £11.00
  • Odeon cinema Leicester Square The Proposal £13.50 – £19.00
  • Chelsea FC (football) Premier League Ticket: £39 – £64

The comparisons above tell us that whilst top tickets for ballet and opera are indeed very expensive (notably those eye-poppingly exclusive grand tier seats), there are plenty other alternatives in every tier of the house, ranging from the equivalent of a movie ticket to the price of a football match (it brings to mind the quote – football is “poor man’s ballet” – a 180 degree shift in paradigm if you look at Premier league ticket prices).

If one considers the production costs associated with a full-length ballet, the expensive designs and costumes, the orchestra, etc. £15 for a ticket seems better value for money than all the other options above. Add to the equation the fact that certain ballet and opera companies run schemes with bulk discounts or membership deals (such as the Friends of Covent Garden scheme or The Sadler’s Wells multi buy discount) and costs dip even further.

(NB: For the sake of this comparison exercise I’ve taken into account the costs for full-length productions which are more expensive than a programme of mixed bills: £6 – £260 for the Royal Ballet’s Agon/Sphinx/New McGregor Triple Bill next season).

Of course, there will always be cheaper entertainment options out there and why not, plenty of stay-at-home ways to watch ballet and opera (TV, DVDs, Iplayer). However, live stagings give audiences a proper opportunity to fully connect and engage with the performers, the scale of which cannot be reproduced in cinema screenings or on DVD. And once you have experienced a live ballet or opera, chances are you will want to return as often as possible. Hopefully the above will serve to demonstrate that opera and ballet do not have to be a once in a lifetime experience or a special occasion treat.

Sources and Further Information

  1. From the Ten O’Clock News to a night at the opera, Tony Hall is taking it to the people. Interview at The Times by Dan Sabbagh [link].
  2. Royal Opera raises Top Ticket Prices by Charlotte Higgins at The Guardian [link]
  3. Ticketmaster.co.uk [link]
  4. Arts Council UK Website [link]

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