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These Dance Companies' Revenue Streams Aren't What You'd Expect
It's an ongoing question for large and small companies alike: How can we increase ticket sales? Tickets are the primary product dance troupes are selling. But what if there were other untapped avenues to make money, and even expand your audience in the process?
Some companies are exploring the possibilities. L.A. Dance Project recently launched the subscription-based ladanceworkout.com, offering streaming workout videos led by company members. Groups of all sizes and even some individual dancers have launched merchandise lines bearing their logos. And, of course, there's the perpetually innovative Pilobolus, which has been in the creative-revenue game for years, with books, advertisements, corporate appearances and more. Companies told us what it takes to expand revenue streams beyond ticket sales:
They Look for Opportunities to Collaborate
At the Joffrey Ballet, collaborations are abundant. But one of their most interesting—and perhaps unexpected—partnerships started when the hotel brand JW Marriott approached them in 2014. "They could see a connection between the way dancers prepare for their performance and the way they want their staff to prepare for their day," says artistic director Ashley Wheater. "Whether you're working as a concierge or at the front desk, it's all a performance." So JW Marriott and the Joffrey created a series of warm-up videos, called Poise and Grace, that hotel employees at the Chicago location performed in groups before each shift. "The video is about how you connect with someone, your eye contact, your hand gestures," adds Wheater.
The project was such a success that JW Marriott invited Wheater to brainstorm ideas for designing the interior of their properties, recognizing the value of someone who has devoted a career to designing movement in space. Now, they've produced two exercise videos for guests at select hotels around the world to stream in their rooms. For JW Marriott, the partnership reinforces the brand's commitment to wellness and elegant living; for the Joffrey, it's a source of income and a way to boost the company's presence in front of potential ticket buyers.
They Copy What Already Works
Being so close to the competition and convention circuit, Shaping Sound has long known the value of branded merchandise. "We saw how well merch did for those tours and that if Travis Wall and Nick Lazzarini were wearing something, dancers would want it," says producer Nikole Vallins. A significant chunk of its customer base is made up of non-dancers, so the company offers clothing that could easily cross over between dancewear and general activewear. "It's half about revenue and half branding. Occasionally we'll give a free T-shirt to an influential dancer—someone we want to be wearing and loving our shirt and putting it on social media." While Shaping Sound's ticket sales can vary from one city to the next, Vallins finds that the merchandise sells well in every market the company visits.
Shaping Sound sticks to merch that's high-quality and dancer-approved. Photo courtesy Shaping Sound
Ventures like this aren't reserved for big-name groups. "Years ago, I would have said you need to be established to sell merchandise," says Vallins, "but one of our dancers, Lex Ishimoto, created his own clothing line and was selling pieces online before going on 'So You Think You Can Dance.' " Today everyone from local ballet companies to experimental choreographers can be found hawking branded tote bags after performances.
They Meet the High Expectations of Dancers
Vallins says that Shaping Sound has learned from audiences what sells best. In their first year, they offered a tank, but, looking back realized that "it's not something that one of us would have ever worn," she says. Now, they work with designers who create custom merchandise for luxury fitness studios like SoulCycle and Barry's Bootcamp. Quality, Vallins says, is what will help your product reach customers beyond your obvious supporters—it's also why people will come back.
They Aren't Afraid to Ask for Help
Pursuing alternate revenue streams is a commitment—and not something you can do halfway. "It takes much more time, energy and attention to detail than people think," says Vallins. "And orders can suddenly skyrocket."
Do your research first. Ask a colleague with retail experience out to coffee, or pick the brain of a friend who works in marketing. "It does require an up-front investment," says Vallins.
When making creative decisions, always remember why you're doing it—apart from the money. "Every partnership that we think about is mission-based—with Marriott it is to provide an understanding of wellness in a complete sense of the word," says Wheater. "It's about a lot more than the money involved."
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.
My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?
—Lost Career, Washington, DC
Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.
We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.