Breaking the Fourth Wall
Dancers are using new media to get closer to audiences.
Social media maven: NYCB’s Megan Fairchild. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
In a world of online over-sharing, it may not come as a surprise that dancers are using visual platforms like Instagram for personal expression. But some are turning to even more intimate forms of media like Viber chats, vlogs and Periscope live streams to give audiences an honest look into their lives. In many cases, social networking is the first step toward attracting fans and marketing their skills.
Helping young dancers is the primary goal of New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild’s weekly “Ask Megan” series on the Balancing Pointe podcast, in which she talks about everything from leaving home for the School of American Ballet to how she prepares her pointe shoes. Fairchild also participates in “A Ballerina’s Life,” a live public chat on Viber. Through the app, users can follow a conversation between Fairchild and Sara Mearns, Ashley Bouder and Stella Abrera, among other dancers. “This world is confusing and stressful, and I want to dispel ideas that in dance you’ve got to deal with a life of drama,” she says. “I like letting people see us as regular people—that after a long day we need a glass of wine and talk about stuff other than ballet.”
Barry Kerollis, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member, has a similar goal. His blog, Life of a Freelance Dancer, candidly recounts the ups and downs of his current career as a freelance dancer and choreographer in Philadelphia. Since 2012, he’s penned more than 140 posts on topics such as doing taxes, life on tour and auditioning. Most of his 100,000-plus views have come from dancers themselves. He also has an online video series, “Core-ography,” in which a dancer shares a personal experience on film, and then creates a piece inspired by the story with Kerollis. “Pennsylvania Ballet’s Lauren Fadeley was my first Core-Artist,” says Kerollis. “She talked about suffering from clinical depression. She was nervous to share, but ultimately found it liberating because she didn’t have to hide anymore.” In another episode, a dancer talks about his struggle with drug use. “I hope this series can be helpful to others who may be in similar situations,” he says.
Through these platforms, Kerollis has bolstered his social media following. But he’s seen more tangible benefits, too. The blog gave him a product to show while he was raising money for “Core-ography.” And talking about being a freelance choreographer has actually helped him book more dancemaking gigs—employers can watch videos and familiarize themselves with his work ethic and personality.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.