In what seems to be a growing trend, regional companies are coming together to share stages and expand their audiences. These team-ups often go beyond split bills, with companies swapping choreographers and performing at least one joint work. While the logistics of co-presentations can be complicated—with more dancers to schedule, budgets to balance and creative visions to blend—the benefits can range from bigger box-office returns to lasting relationships for the artists.
One of the toughest moments in the ballet world is watching a life-changing performance—and then looking around to see that only half the seats were filled to witness it. The discussion about how ballet can stay relevant and build new audiences has been going on for decades. However, these debates often end in speculation about the relevance of the product, rather than placing the onus on the marketing and sales crew.
But recently, a few U.S. ballet companies have done the latter, leading to full houses on weeknights and proving that revenue growth is possible: In 2016, Boston Ballet saw record-breaking ticket revenue and had the highest attendance in more than a decade. Colorado Ballet has exceeded revenue goals the last four seasons, with the 2016–17 season being the most successful to date.
The rosters at major companies are growing.
Artistic director Gil Boggs (right) leads a Colorado Ballet rehearsal. Photo courtesy Colorado Ballet.
The recession in 2008–09 took a major toll on U.S. dance companies of all sizes, genres and geographic locations. Some shortened their programming and cut staff members. Many had to downsize their troupes.
But the 2014–15 season suggests that many ballet companies’ finances are on the upswing. Colorado Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Boston Ballet have all expanded their rosters this year. Still, Amy Fitterer, executive director of Dance/USA, which gathers dance company statistics annually, warns that it’s too soon to tell if the dance world has had an economic turnaround. “I’m still hearing from companies, especially those with budgets under $1.5 million, that they are struggling,” she says.
Boston Ballet’s Mikko Nissinen is seeing positive steps forward. When he became artistic director in 2001, the company roster reached 54 dancers. “Then around 2008 we had to take one step backwards to move forward. The smallest we got was 43,” he says. This year, he reached his longtime goal as artistic director: Boston Ballet now employs 70 dancers, including nine in the second company. This gives him flexibility to do full-scale ballets without overworking the corps, and the company opened its season with 16 performances of his new Swan Lake. “Every artistic decision is also a financial decision,” he says.
At Colorado Ballet, artistic director Gil Boggs has upped the studio company roster to 22 from 16. He says he’s not fiscally ready to add dancers to the main company, but hopes it’s in the near future. “When we expand our corps, we have to take a hard look at the financial commitment that requires. Right now we’re committed to being fiscally responsible.” Last year, the company saw record ticket sales. “If that continues,” Boggs says, “the money would be used to increase the company size.” That’s what every company is hoping for: to turn back the recession clock and jump-start growth.
Look up, Nashville: Bay Area vertical dance company BANDALOOP is taking over downtown buildings on Oct. 6. The special event will kick off the company’s performances of Harboring at the city’s new contemporary arts venue, OZ, where dancers will hang from three different spaces as audiences are guided from one room to another. Oct. 10–11. oznashville.com.
Above: BANDALOOP at the New World Center in Miami Beach. Photo by Atossa Soltani, Courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates.
Giordano Returns to Its Roots
Giordano Dance Chicago has expunged the word “jazz” from its name. But judging from its next premiere, the company could put that word back in. Commercial artist Ray Leeper, who has choreographed for Cher and Snoop Dogg and on “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” is cooking up a piece with touches of Broadway flavor. Oct. 24–25, Harris Theater in Millennium Park. harristheaterchicago.org.
Right: GDC’s Martin Ortiz Tapia and Maeghan McHale. Photo by Gorman Cook Photography, Courtesy GDC.
Eiko’s New Body Art
After four decades as a duo, Eiko & Koma are taking on separate ventures. While Koma delves into visual arts, Eiko is working on a long-term project that places her body in different environments. This month, she performs Eiko: A Body in Station in three-hour stints at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. It may be rush hour for others, but it’s the opposite for Eiko. Select dates, Oct. 3–25. pafa.org.
Left: Eiko; Photo by William Johnston, Courtesy Johnston.
Dance and Degas in DC
Edgar Degas’ sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is one of the most famous works of impressionist art in the world. But very few know of its seedy back story. The girl who modeled for Degas, Marie van Goethem, was a poor dancer at the bottom of Paris Opéra Ballet’s ranks, whose father died when she was young, leaving her mother to raise three girls on a laundress’ meek income. In Little Dancer, Susan Stroman’s new half-fact, half-fiction coming-of-age musical, Marie is caught stealing from Degas to pay for pointe shoes. The punishment: She must pose for the artist to pay off her debts.
New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck, who first worked with Stroman in The Music Man at age 11, will dance (and act and sing) her way through the role of Young Marie. “It’s a lighthearted story, but it’s also dark,” says Peck. “I think everyone, especially dancers, can relate to it. Ballet is such a difficult career. We all have to have a little fight in us to get to where we are.” Catch its premiere at The Kennedy Center, Oct. 25–Nov. 30, and stop by the National Gallery of Art, where the original sculpture will be the centerpiece of a Degas exhibition. Oct. 5–Jan. 11. kennedy-center.org.
Right: Tiler Peck as Young Marie. Photo by Matthew Karas, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.
A Choreographer On the Rise
NEW YORK CITY
New York City Ballet dancer Troy Schumacher has quickly made a name for himself for his fresh perspective on the neoclassical vocabulary. He had his choreographic debut with NYCB in September and this month, his pickup company of NYCB dancers, BalletCollective, will premiere two works. Oct. 29–30. nyuskirball.org.
Left: BalletCollective’s Harrison Coll and Ashley Laracey. Photo by Whitney Browne, Courtesy Dancers Responding to AIDS.
Dracula Takes Over
Bram Stoker’s vampire tale is becoming the Nutcracker of All Hallows’ Eve. Here’s where you can catch it this month.
The Alabama Ballet
By Wes Chapman and Roger Van Fleteren
Oct. 30–Nov. 2
Ballet San Antonio
By Gabriel Zertuche
Ballet Quad Cities
By Deanna Carter
Select dates, Oct. 17–25
By Nancy Page
By Lynne Taylor-Corbett
By Michael Pink
Oct. 31–Nov. 2
Mark Bruce Company
By Mark Bruce
Touring Sept. 26–Dec. 4
Right: Colorado Ballet’s Dracula. Photo by Terry Shapiro, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.
Nicole Wolcott and Larry Keigwin #sharethemattress. Photo by Whitney Browne, Courtesy Keigwin + Co.
Chances are you watched the clip (at least once), gave it a “like” and shared it with a friend. New York City Ballet principals Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour dancing Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain on 4 World Trade Center was a hauntingly beautiful 9/11 tribute. But it’s hard not to recognize what led to over 900,000 YouTube views, and mentions by Forbes, The Huffington Post and Shape magazine, as marketing genius. NYCB is one of many companies running video campaigns that have gone viral. These aren’t your standard performance or behind-the-scenes clips. They often place dancers where traditional performances can’t exist. They’re intimate and smart, and reveal the colors of a company and its dancers.
Viral videos can be such important marketing tools that some companies are using PR firms to help shape their strategies. With Goodman Media International, Keigwin + Company’s #sharethemattress series, inspired by the company’s first work Mattress Suite, garnered nearly 100,000 collective clicks. Guests like recent Matilda: The Musical dancer Ryan Steele and “Project Runway” alum Austin Scarlett prompted call-outs from celebrity blogger Perez Hilton and OUT magazine. And it even turned into a meme: Dancers of the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company were some of many who made their own #sharethemattress videos. “It was designed to bring the company to a new audience and reconnect with the dance world,” says Goodman rep John Michael Kennedy. “Gather a group of attractive people with great bodies in their underwear and people are compelled to watch.”
Other companies have stumbled into lucky hits. At Colorado Ballet, corps de ballet dancer Sean Omandam originally made a video of Giselle going to a diner for fun. But the week it went live, the company saw a 45 percent increase in the number of unique visitors to their website. And new Facebook likes were triple the average new likes per day, says CO Ballet public relations manager Sanya Andersen-Vie. The unexpected success turned into a new strategy: The company has asked Omandam to make a video for each remaining performance of the season.