On the Minds of Top Companies

January 28, 2015

What happens when the executive leaders of more than 20 major dance companies meet in the same room? You get a snapshot of the top business concerns of today’s leading troupes. Dance/USA recently hosted just such a gathering in London, with representatives from major US institutions like American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and San Francisco Ballet, as well as European heavyweights including the Paris Opéra Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater and The Royal Ballet.


Unsurprisingly, Dance/USA executive director Amy Fitterer says the top issue discussed during the two-day conference was audience engagement and retention. “How people are spending their leisure time is changing—how does that inform how our art form should change?” asks Fitterer. “The National Endowment for the Arts reports that 71 percent of Americans get their art through streaming videos, social media and television—what does that mean for dance?” For starters, many companies said they’ve been experimenting with putting full-length productions into movie theaters. They’ve also been showing work on television and sharing through YouTube, which comes with both bonuses and downsides. But the good news is that a lot of ballet companies are seeing an increase in ticket sales. 


What audiences seem to want more of is new full-lengths—not necessarily additional Swan Lakes, but stories that have yet to be told through dance. The problem is that very few choreographers have the skills to create major two-act narratives on, say, 150 dancers in a giant theater. Companies on both sides of the ocean have started creating new initiatives to support emerging dancemakers who want to do these kinds of ballets. In fact, almost three-quarters of attendees had something in the works to offer choreographers more training, opportunities and experience. After realizing how many were facing this same challenge, some companies are now in talks to link up with each other’s programs to help offer ongoing support throughout a choreographer’s career. The takeaway? Dancers can expect to be learning more Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pans. And choreographers looking to get into the game should keep their eyes open for these fellowships and other opportunities that will help them grow their narrative skills.