The business of ballet

This morning I was chatting with my boss and she, knowing that I’m a dancer, mentioned seeing this on television recently:

The ballet business

[My apologies for the link — I tried to embed the video, but WordPress wasn’t having it!]

The artistry and technique is something we focus a lot of attention on, with good reason… it’s what draws us (children and adults alike) into the studio and keeps us there. But, as with everything else, dance is ultimately a business. Without revenue you have no venue to showcase your hard work. So this clip really struck me. It was nice to see a business segment on television discussing what it takes to get something on stage and opening people’s minds to what it means to fund the arts.

“It’s both an artistic decision and a business decision. And quite frankly, every artistic decision is a business decision and every business decision an artistic one.” –Barry Hughson, Executive Director of the Boston Ballet, discussing the decision to revamp BB’s Nutcracker production

The company has generated a lot of buzz around the newest Nutcracker production and it started months before the show actually opened. Nut is Nut in my mind, but let’s be honest… it’s the one ballet of the season that pulls people in off the street. Love it or hate it, it’s the money-maker and as big as BB is, it’s not the only game in town, so they can’t let their Nut get completely stale. There are cheaper versions out there and while the quality of small-scale productions is certainly not as great, the cost savings is a big consideration for many families. In order to convince people to shell out bigger bucks to see the main game, you’ve got to convince them that they are going to get something more special and magical than anywhere else in the area.

But the cost of revamping the whole thing… $2 million? I’m not sure if I’m surprised it was so expensive or surprised it was so cheap, honestly.

I appreciated the discussion on how the economy has affected BB (and the arts in general), particularly Hughson’s comment that they are having to work harder to reap a smaller reward and yet stating that this has made them better at what they do: telling their story and keeping the community engaged and committed to the institution. I suppose if there’s ever a silver lining it’s that hard times can serve to highlight what’s important to us and encourage us to put our money where our mouths are.

The engagement and community connection led to the part that really touched my heart. I had no idea that Boston Ballet School is the largest ballet academy in the world with 5000 students. But the part that really wowed me? 2000 of those students are adults. Adult dancers! Like us! Sure, I’m guessing in that 2000 number there are plenty of people who show up for one class never to be seen again, but that’s a lot of people coming in and trying dance. And that’s just awesome.

Hughson highlights that only a small portion of BBS students are in the pre-pro program. That program is very highly regarded, of course, but I think BB is on the right track in engaging ballet for the rest of us… the children that may not want a dance career, but love the art nonetheless. The adults that want to live out childhood dreams or just find a form of exercise that doesn’t suck. Those are the people who I think are going to form the loyal nucleus of an audience that will help to sustain and grow the art.

Oh, and the 90-something dancer he mentions? I fully intend to be that lady in a few decades!

I hope you enjoy this segment as much as I did and that it gets you thinking about the future of ballet. Please feel free to leave your comments below. I’d like to hear them!

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