Bay Area dance companies have really put on their creative thinking caps and found ingenious marketing methods. Since there is more dance per capita here than anywhere else in the country it’s a given that companies need to find a way to stand out from the crowd. I’m a huge fan of good ideas and here are a few of my favorites:
Diablo Ballet has distinguished themselves as a company that has embraced technology in order to reach a larger audience. They were hugely successful with their Twitter campaign, where a group of “textperts” tweeted live during a performance. However, they kept reaching and were able to connect with a global audience with the “Web Ballet” project, where fans were able to give their input to shape the ballet.
Oakland Ballet reminded ballet-goers to “think local” during a recent ad campaign that featured photographs of their dancers on location in local hot spots.
Several companies took it to the street for the 9th annual Dance Anywhere, a worldwide celebration of dance that happens simultaneously across the globe.. Avy K Productions, AXIS Dance Company and Bianca Cabrerra’s Blind Tiger Society were among the listed performers.
Avy K performed at YBCA, the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts.
Post:Ballet‘s fine art dance images showcase their modern aesthetic. Dancers are often photographed in little to no clothing with dramatic lighting to enhance the lines of their bodies. Many of their images are shot on location in natural settings. These photographs make a clear statement that the company has embraced the modern age.
The Bay Area is a mecca of dance and creativity. It’s always a treat to sample new and different fare.
I recently came across an online dialogue that posed the question: is ballet elitist? I had to wonder how anyone would cling to that idea at this point in time. Although it may have been true centuries ago–when ballet came from dances of the high courts of Italy, France and Russia– ballet today speaks to a wider audience than ever before.
I am lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where companies are finding new ways to make ballet even more accessible. For instance, Diablo Ballet let the crowd call the shots when they put the creative process online, using social media to allow a global audience to choose key elements for their web ballet. Other companies have chosen to share ballet in new types of venues. Post:Ballet’s Artistic Director Robert Dekkers has offered sneak peeks of his newest works at local nightclubs like 111 Minna Gallery and the Infinity Lounge. He also incorporates video and other technologies to create a multi-media experience.
In order to appeal to a greater spectrum of people the face of ballet is changing dramatically. Take a look at the roster of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet for a case in point. San Francisco is a city known for its diversity and King’s company is a perfect representation. The company is also known for its cutting-edge choreography, but collaborations with world-class musicians such as Zakir Hussain, Mickey Hart and Pharoah Sanders continue to bring public interest to an entirely new level.
Casting an even wider net, The Royal Ballet and Boston Ballet both offered a live stream, bringing ballet home to anyone with a computer (talk about putting ballet in the hands of the people!) and New York City Ballet has implemented their own creative strategy: the New York City Ballet Art Series. The company commissions leading and emerging contemporary artists to create original works of art inspired by NYCB’s dancers and one-of-a-kind repertory of ballets. In the past they have worked with luminaries like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring and recently turned to FAILE, a hip artistic duo, to help bring in a younger audience.
Ballet may have been elitist at one time… but that was eons ago. Today’s companies are experimenting with new choreography, techniques and venues to remain contemporary in feel and appeal. It’s an exciting time to be a dancer–and a dance fan.
The Web Ballet, Diablo Ballet’s newest concept for making ballet accessible will make Diablo Ballet of California the first professional dance company to create an entirely new dance work from ideas suggested by internet users, based on choreography suggestions submitted by individuals all around the world to Diablo Ballet’s Twitter page @DiabloBallet.Cast your vote through Thursday February 14th using Twitter hash tag #DiabloWebBallet and select the music by voting on Diablo Ballet’s YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/diabloballet.
After submissions close, Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet dancer, Artistic Director of San Francisco’s Post:Ballet, and one of Dance Magazine’s 2011 25 to Watch and Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, will select seven choreographic suggestions. Dekkers will then have two weeks to utilize all of the winning ideas and create a new dance work.
I recently caught up with Mr. Dekkers for the following interview:
GC: You are charged with choreographing Diablo Ballet’s web ballet. What are your feelings on entering this project?
RD: When they approached me with the idea I was interested. I’ve been exploring limitations and I thought it was a great opportunity to impose those limitations on myself and see what paths I take to produce the final work… how they affect me and the creative process. I’m hoping to get some great ideas and off-kilter ideas. For me it’s a great challenge, something new, exciting and different.
GC: How do you see yourself putting the project into action?
RD: We are accepting suggestions until February 14th. At that point we’ll choose 7 suggestions and I’ll use those to create the final piece. I won’t be working with the dancers until February 15th. I’ll have less than 3 weeks to make the piece and get it on stage, which is a very quick time frame. The piece will be 8-10 minutes, not a full evening-length work, but still a lot of material to cover in such a short period of time… and some of the dancers are working on other pieces, not just mine, so that will be definitely be tight.
Normally I start my conceptual process months out, doing things to prepare…listening to music, viewing museum exhibits, things related to the topic I’m exploring. This time I have to be patient. But the project is about limitations and how we put them to use. The interesting piece is:how we are going to use these possibly disjointed ideas and make them one cohesive pice that revolves around a common theme and has a structure? It will be interesting. I’m a little nervous, actually. (Here he is at work in the studio):
I liken it to the show Project Runway: when they’re given $1000 and a dream budget it always turns out rather plain and boring and when they’re given $10 and four apples and a banana peel they always make things that are just amazing. This is my four apples and a banana peel kind of piece. I’m hoping that not having my usual opportunity for all the resources and time will push me to whittle through the fat and delve into the heart of the piece. The challenge will push me further and I’ll make something special… so that even after the web ballet project is over it’s a piece that can be done again and has substance to it. As a choreographer I want to make sure that the final work is indicative of my taste and choreography.
Mayo Sugano & Derek Sakaura, photo by Ashraf
GC: Just to touch on what you said about the four apples and a banana peel theory… I have a friend who says that good art is often happy accidents. When we are taken out of our normal way of doing things we come up with something totally different.
RD: Yes! Can you put quotes around that and say that I said it? Just kidding. But it’s so true. The little in-between moments when you’re not sure… the question marks… those are the magical places where the greatest things can happen. Something might accidentally happen and it redirects the whole piece – you get that “aha” that you were searching for.
GC: Is there anything else you want to share?
RD: I did pick the 3 pieces of music, so they not strange to me. They are all Classical and I have choreographed to them in the past. One of the pieces I made my 2nd ballet to when I was 17. Now that I’ve grown as a choreographer and developed my own movement sensibility and vocabulary I’m excited to come back to one of these pieces of music and have a new take on it and have to go a different route. I have a special place in my heart for these pieces of music that I grew up to.
The Web Ballet will be presented as part of Diablo Ballet’s Inside the Dancer’s Studio series March 1st and 2nd at the Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium in Walnut Creek, CA. The winning suggestions will receive tickets to the performance and a photo from the created work, autographed by Dekkers.
Robert Dekkers was recently named a ’25 To Watch’ artist, by DANCE Magazine, and has danced professionally with Ballet Arizona, ODC/Dance San Francisco, and Company C Contemporary Ballet before joining Diablo Ballet in 2011. He has performed in works by choreographers including George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, August Bournonville, KT Nelson, Maurice Causey, Brenda Way, Val Caniparoli, Lar Lubovich and Charles Molton. Mr. Dekkers has also been choreographing for over a decade, presenting works at venues including the Tanzsommer Festival in Vienna and the Ballet Builders Showcase in New York City. He was resident choreographer for Novaballet before founding his own company, Post:Ballet, in San Francisco. Since launching Post, he has created numerous critically acclaimed collaborations including When in Doubt, Colouring, Mine is Yours and Interference Pattern. His first work for Diablo Ballet, Happy Ending, premiered in May of 2012. In addition to his work as a choreographer and dancer, Mr. Dekkers also holds a degree in business from Rio Salado College
This past Friday Diablo Ballet presented the opportunity to partake in an experiment that would propel ballet into the Brave New World… by tweeting live during a performance. I’m a big fan of Twitter; composing interesting ideas in 140 characters (or less) is a fun creative challenge. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of combining dance and technology in a new way…. And it gave me a chance to see a wonderful local ballet company for the first time.
The program included excerpts from the following 4 ballets:
1. West Coast Premiere Pas de Deux from Mercurial Manoeuvres, by Christopher Wheeldon, set to Dimitry Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor.
2. World Premiere of Back in the Day, featuring the music of Frank Sinatra by Diablo Ballet’s David Fonnegra.
3. A Path Of Delight Or… by Tina Kay Bohnstedt, set to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A major.
4. The Escaping Game, by KT Nelson, set to music by Zap Mama.
The show was given at Shadelands auditorium, an intimate setting that seated about 200 people.
The cast of characters tweeting live from the Tweetdeck (which was the back row of the theater, so as not to disturb the rest of the audience):myself @griercooper, Ethan Teng @dancingfoodie, Saumirah McWoodson from Dance Daze @dance_daze and Stef from @fLO_Content with @LaMorindaWeb adding to the dialogue from afar.
The idea sparked a fair amount of controversy beforehand. Smuin Ballet started a dialogue on February 24th, and Diablo Ballet’s Facebook page was flooded. However, it generated quite a bit of press for Diablo Ballet. The Contra Costa Times ran an article and Dan Meagher, the company’s director of marketing, was featured live on KGO radio.
For those of us who participated, the evening was a blast – an experience to remember, both for its novelty and ingenuity. Here are my thoughts about the evening…
• It was fun to share dialogue live, both with other Tweeters and the larger internet audience.
• It gave us a way to share the experience with others who couldn’t attend the performance.
• We were able to dialogue with the dancers of Diablo Ballet in the aftermath.
• We gained exposure for Diablo Ballet.
• As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to multitask tweeting and watching a show.
• It takes time to type and craft an exact 140-character idea.
• I only caught pieces of the ballet, in between typing.
• Auto correct turned “pas de deux” into “pas de feud”!
Some favorite tweets of the evening:
dialogues: 6:42 pm (moments before the show) @LamorindaWeb: Don’t you wish you could just execute a beautiful jete over that traffic? @ dancingfoodie: I’m on my way, bridge traffic be damned! @griercooper: able to leap tall buildings and nasty traffic jams in a single bound!
@griercooper: Derek Sakakura has his work cut out for him. Mercurial Manoeuvres starts with tons of lifts. @thesakibomb (Derek Sakakura): lol, yes it’s very good! The hardest part is trying to make the transitions seamless.
@griercooper: …Costumes remind me of Star Trek. @thesakibomb (Derek Sakakura): maybe it’s appropriate since we’re now using “futuristic tech” in ballet! Lol!!
Tweets by individuals:
@dancingfoodie: reading the other tweeters’ thoughts added a really interesting dimension to the live experience…. I missed maybe a third of the performance, but I didn’t mind, really…The moments where your entire being vibrates to the music, that’s what I live for…I was first exposed to dance in my late 20s. I always think, what if?… But, I dance everyday, and even though it’s just in class, I derive such joy from it…“Nothing to prove, only to share”. I only wish that was a more universal sentiment among dancers…. I will never take a live orchestra for granted again.
@fLO_Content:the whole experience was a blast. Tweet or no tweet. I’d def recommend @DiabloBallet !…Most dancers seem to have known they wanted to do it since childhood…Wow you can see those girls sweat! This is intimate even from the back…My experience with ballet is limited . But this I want more of in my life… Amazing lifts. Flips. Precision, joy. Girls transfixed
@LaMorindaWeb:Admit it, u were inspired by tweet-night! …Wonder if the @DiabloBallet dancers will read these tweets after the performance? Would love 2 know what they think of the tweets… Ballet in our own backyard. So glad to have the arts so close to home….We salute @DiabloBallet for making the arts accessible to the East Bay community, and doing it in an innovative way tonight
From @dance_daze: “Is there a point at losing yourself in the dance? And, is that important?” – Audience Question…Love this. I want this song for my students’ Brain Dance music!! …So many lifts and spins with Mayo Sugano and Derek Sakakura… almost like figure skating!…How fun! I want to get out of bed each morning dancing the way Edward Stegge just danced! …I love the variety in this music. Makes me want to go do some math homework, or watch a movie that was filmed in Paris.
@griercooper:If you don’t have the technique, you can’t execute the choreography: David Fonnegra… Some of my best performances weren’t technically my best… Must learn about choreographer Tina Kay Bohnstedt. The piece was gorgeous…. But were the most heart-felt. I was committed to the art+ choreography…Rosselyn Ramirez is sultry, smoky and ultra-smooth… Choreography is ballet meets social dancing. Fun… Go girls… I love watching dancers when they’re on… Especially during turns….Piano was also live… Pianist Michael Schmitz knows his stuff… Only realized at bows that the music was live…Problem is there are 2 guys, one girl.. Which will she choose? Smart girl- she chose both!
Personally speaking, it was an honor to be a part of Diablo Ballet’s newest chapter. Does Twitter replace the actual experience of seeing the show? Of course not. But it does offer a new way of sharing thoughts about dance. It’s highly unlikely that Twitter will become a regular part of ballet, but what’s the harm in a little experimentation? While I wouldn’t ordinarily want to tweet during a show (except when invited to as a guest) it did offer Twitter followers the opportunity to follow and get up-to-the-minute insights on the action. After all, honesty and memory often work best in the moment.
Not everyone would agree with my sentiments. What do you think?