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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."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
These days, everyone tells you how important it is to be versatile. But what if you're convinced there's just one style that's right for you? It can be tough to balance a deep interest in a single specialty and still meet many choreographers' expectations. Luckily, you don't have to choose between all in or all over the place, as long as you follow your interests thoughtfully.
So far, the fervor to create diversity in ballet has primarily focused on dancers. Less attention has been paid to the work that they'll encounter once they arrive.
Yet the cultivation of ballet choreographers of color (specifically black choreographers) through traditional pathways of choreographic training grounds remains virtually impossible. No matter how you slice it, we end up at the basic issues that plague the pipeline to the stage: access and privilege.
Christopher Wheeldon is going to be giving Michael Jackson some new moves: The Royal Ballet artistic associate is bringing the King of Pop to Broadway.
The unlikely pairing was announced today by Jackson's estate. Wheeldon will serve as both director and choreographer for the new musical inspired by Michael Jackson's life, which is aiming for a 2020 Broadway opening. This will be Wheeldon's second time directing and choreographing, following 2015's Tony Award-winning An American in Paris.
Wheeldon is a surprising choice, to say the least. There are many top choreographers who worked with Jackson directly, like Wade Robson and Brian Friedman, who could have been tapped for the project. Or the production could have even hired someone who actually choreographed on Jackson when he was alive, like Buddha Stretch.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
Let's start with the obvious: Over the weekend, Beyoncé and Jay-Z released a joint album, Everything Is Love. Bey and Jay also dropped a video for the album's lead track, which they filmed inside the actual Louvre museum in Paris (as one does, when one is a member of the Carter family). And the vid features not only thought-provoking commentary on the Western art tradition, but also some really incredible dancing.
So, who choreographed this epic? And who are the dancers bringing it to life in those already-iconic bodystockings?
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
This week, New York City's Joyce Theater presents two companies addressing LGBTQ+ issues.