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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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Daniil Simkin

Daniil Simkin. Photo: Enrico Nawrath / ABT ©

If you follow dance on the internet chances are you will have heard of Daniil Simkin.  He is the whiz kid (not just dance-wise but also tech-wise) who arrived last year from Vienna State Opera to stir some fresh buzz into American Ballet Theatre’s soloist ranks. His virtuoso dancing and various gala appearances, including the prestigious World Ballet Festival in Japan, have drawn a solid fanbase from every corner of the globe and Daniil draws on multi-platform social media and Web 2.0 to stay in touch and connect with all these fans.

We caught up with Daniil ahead of ABT’s trip to China later this week. He was kind enough to answer our questions about his ABT repertoire, his social media projects and to share his plans for the upcoming gala evening “INTENSIO” in Athens this December.

You are now in your second season with ABT. Can you tell us how it’s going? Any new roles/debuts on the horizon? Which roles do you expect to dance in the upcoming tour to China?

DS: So far my second season has been great. I will be touching a lot of new ground and will be expanding my horizons during the MET’s spring season, dancing in Twyla Tharp’s Brahms Hayden Variations, the great Jerome Robbins ballet Fancy Free, in Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream (as Puck), probably in Paul Taylor’s Company B, in addition to dancing my current roles in our classical repertoire. I have also been understudying a few Principal roles in the classics since I have performed some of them with other companies, but I have no scheduled performances in those yet.

During ABT’s tour in China I will be performing ‘Everything doesn’t happen at Once‘ by Benjamin Millepied and ‘One in Three‘ by Aszure Barton, both created for ABT and premiered during its Avery Fisher Hall season this Fall. Both pieces are extremely different, but very enjoyable to perform. I am very much looking forward to the tour, especially because it will be my first visit to China.

Simkin Millepied

Daniil Simkin in Benjamin Millepied’s Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once. Photo: Gene Schiavone / ABT ©

Speaking of the Far East, can you briefly share your experiences at the World Ballet Festival in Japan this past summer?

DS: The World Ballet Festival was an unbelievable experience. Just the fact that I was sharing the stage with people like Sylvie Guillem, Aurelie Dupont, Manuel Legris, Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg, Marianela Nuñez, Svetlana Zakharova, Leonid Sarafanov, Tamara Rojo… It gives me goosebumps. One of the most memorable moments was probably receiving corrections & pointers from Sylvie Guillem. Luckily my first show, a full-length Don Quixote, happened at the very beginning of the festival. Not everybody was there yet so I was able to concentrate on my show without thinking too much on who might be watching in the audience!

You are one of few classical dancers currently using social media to connect with your audience. How did you get into it and what are you trying to achieve in all these different platforms (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.)?

DS: I have always been interested in computers and any technology-related gadgets. Some boys are drawn towards cars and motorsports, whereas as a kid I was drawn to computers, science and gadgets. I spent more time on my father’s first computers than he ever did. Then came the Internet and its ever-increasing presence in our lives. Luckily I was born in an age when everything was just starting. I was designing personal websites by myself in my spare time and once codecs for videos became more efficient I put in there videos from my competitions as downloadable clips.

Then one day I saw one of my clips in somebody’s MySpace page and found out somebody else had uploaded two of my clips and was selling a DVD of it on YouTube without my permission. I was shocked. Because of that I decided to put my own videos onto YouTube, otherwise others would. I also started to use MySpace after my competition in Jackson (2006) since it was the perfect way to keep in touch with a lot of the US dancers I had met there.

From there it was not a long shot to Facebook and Twitter. I was the second professional dancer to use Twitter, after San Francisco Ballet Principal and good friend Maria Kochetkova. I had fun updating my status and therefore kept doing it, until twittering was the next popular thing for pretty much every and anyone. Nowadays all of my platforms are interconnected, which means that my profile and my work can be discovered through different channels. If somebody gets to know a little bit about what I do from watching my YouTube videos, this person can then have a full picture through my Facebook page, Twitter and my personal website, which is currently in the process of being upgraded to a new, fully integrated, Web 2.0 version.

Simkin Azure

Daniil Simkin in Aszure Barton’s One of Three. Photo: Photo: Gene Schiavone / ABT ©

With all of this, my aim is to demystify our work as ‘professional dancers’. Our profession is surrounded by clichés and prejudices from misinformed people. I am trying to show that we dancers may be a little different from everybody else, but in essence we are human beings with routines, likes and dislikes, social lives and passions like everyone else. In short, we are not so different or more special than the office worker sitting in a cubicle, we just have different workspaces.

People in dance talk about the need to promote ballet more widely and yet, few actually do it. Why do you think there are so few dancers/choreographers in social media channels and have you encouraged any of your colleagues to use them?

DS: To quote a twitterer “I must do something” always solves more problems than “Something must be done” (Author Unknown). In the end, we as the dance world ARE the ones who have to change, not our surroundings, the media, etc. In my opinion classical dance is not more popular because in the dance world we tend to be more conservative than innovative. We have to change our mentality and prejudices towards copyright, media, replace them with openness and transparence. Only when the majority understands that this is the key to the future, will we succeed. In my opinion protectionism in these days of Internet/Web 2.0 can be destructive. That’s my two cents.

I have been encouraging some of my colleagues to participate in the Web 2.0 movement, but unlike most of the other professional fields, ballet is very physical and is very little connected to technology in its everyday routine. Therefore dancers are not as open to embracing the possibilities of technology as they could be.

What do you think major ballet companies should be doing to draw new audiences and to keep engaging them?

DS: The same things I mentioned before. Project more openness and a certain fearlessness in their PR. Fear is the biggest enemy of innovation and it prevents them from progressing, from opening the art form towards new audiences.

It is clear to me that the artistic mission of ballet companies should be to maintain a healthy balance between proven classics and innovative work with new ballet choreographers. Basically it is guarding a basis while nurturing experimental directions, but in reality, only big scale companies have the luxury to do both these things. The smaller the company, the harder it will be – budget and quality wise – to maintain a high level of both. Which doesn’t mean it is not a goal to strive for or one that’s unreachable.

Can you tell us more about the gala you are organizing in Athens this December? Why this particular location and who will be guesting?

DS: After performing in the ‘Svetlana Zakharova & Friends’ gala in Athens last year I was approached and asked to organize a similar event. The Gala evening is called ‘INTENSIO – An International Ballet Gala Presented by Daniil Simkin’. ‘INTENSIO’ is a play with the words ‘intense’ and ‘intention’. It describes the evening quite well in that it is not going to be just a clean dance evening, we are trying to merge different media into a ‘mashup’ for an entertaining evening. My father is in charge of the stage design and video projections specifically designed to support the dance on stage, as some pieces will be integrated with video. It is an exciting project for me and a new approach towards the usual ‘gala’ evening you see so often.

So far the following dancers will be performing (+ another couple to be announced)

Daniil Simkin Peasant Pdd

Daniil Simkin in ABT's Giselle. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor / ABT ©

How do you see your career evolving 5 years from now, what would you like to have achieved & which roles do you aspire to dance?

DS: I tend not to look too much into the future. Life experience showed me that it is healthier and better for me to enjoy the things I have now and share the beauty of life right here, right now. Having said that, dancing the Principal classical repertoire is one of my priorities in the near future and I would also love to go back to school, at least part-time or to learn remotely. Right now I am too busy and I don’t have enough time, but hopefully in the future I will be able to do that.

What’s in your ballet bag?

DS: Different things for different occasions… If I am running from studio to studio rehearsing, then it would be:

  • Water with added Magnesium
  • Different kinds of warm ups to keep as flexible and as warm as possible (normally consist of 4 or more items+ warm up boots or warm up socks)
  • Headband to keep my hair in place (which tends to be long enough to bug me)
  • Sansha Pro 1C skin colored ballet slippers
  • Toe spacers for my big toes + medical tape to stick them
  • iPhone + a2dp Bluetooth Nokia wireless headphones
  • 2 different stretching bands: One from Chacott to stretch my split and extensions and one Thera-Band to warm up my feet

Last but not least, COOKIES to keep my bloodsugar and mood up and to give me an always needed sugar-fix!

More about Daniil:

  1. The New York Times on Daniil in ABT’s Le Corsaire [link]
  2. W Magazine on Daniil’s relationship with the Internet [link]
  3. Daniil’s Official Website [link]
  4. Daniil on Twitter [link]
  5. His Facebook page [link]
  6. His YouTube channel [link]
  7. Intensio Gala Information from Elliniki Theamaton (venue) [link]

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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)

Picture 4American Ballet Theatre

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.


Picture 10New York City Ballet

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.

Picture 2Royal Opera House

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”

Picture 13

The Mariinsky

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!

Picture 11The Royal Danish Ballet

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”

Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi, La Scala

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?

Tumbrl

Iphone Applications

Social Media Aggregators

Same time relays/IPlayers

DVD-on-demand

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.

See also:

Our note on the best dance pages on Facebook [Link]

Disclaimer: Logo & images copyright belongs to their respective owners.

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