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#1 variated

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 06:01 AM

[Admin note: this great topic was originally part of the thread on Patricia Zhou in the Royal Ballet forum. I've created a new topic to discuss the broader issue of marketing dancers. Thank you variated for raising it.]


I'm also keen to see Miss Zhou dance with the RB and wish her well. The reason I (and many others) will be aware of her before she has even begun is, I think, interesting as an indicator of the importance for young dancers of promoting themselves early in their careers. I would call it the "youtube phenomenon" (although it's really much wider than that). There are certain young dancers who whilst still in the training phase of their career are very astutely (either themselves or through those around them) raising their profile in multiple ways through an intelligent use of online and traditional media.

Patricia Zhou for example, keeps an entertaining blog on her own website and was broadcast live on the web during the Prix de Lausanne finals. In addition, a quick google brings up features on her life story in Pointe, DanceSpirit and various other publications as well as youtube clips of her dancing.

There are others of a similar age who are equally well known despite having not yet set foot on stage as a professional. Claudia Dean, who also joins the Royal Ballet this year, was the subject of a videoblog during her Prix de Lausanne experience, made an impression at Youth America Grand Prix and at the Genee (where she won the gold medal) and again a quick google reveals much media coverage of her recent performance of the Corsaire pas de deux at Sydney Opera House.

Of course these two (and other similar up-and-comers such as Alys Shee, Esteban Hernandez and Mayara Magri) are phenomenally talented and I am in no sense implying that they have got where they are on the basis of this promotion. However, I do think it raises an interesting question for company directors going forward as to whether they should feature their "famous" dancers who potential audiences may already be familiar with, in preference to those who were not so well known before joining the corps (try googling Francesca Hayward and Tomas Mock for example, the other new RB corps members, and you will not get anything like the same amount of coverage).

After all, as discussed in the new RB director thread a couple of months back, ballet companies are these days expected to do good business and if they can hire "self-made" stars who the audience is keen to see then arguably that is exactly what they should be doing. However, for the purpose of company cohesion it presents a whole new set of challenges if not only the principals but the most junior members of the company are self-promoting outside the company's own "official" PR plan.

If I were an intelligent 16 or 17 year old dancer with professional aspirations nowadays I would give a lot of thought to increasing my own exposure through the international competition circuit, a youtube channel, a blog and actively courting media interest. It seems like the smart thing to do - although sadly yet another reason why the wealthy are at an advantage in pre-professional ballet education. Or maybe the dancers who most successfully court publicity are genuinely in another league of talent from those who do not. I'd be very interested to hear people's views.
Apologies if I have taken this thread off track but it seemed presumptuous to start a new thread with my first post.

#2 Simon G

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Posted 19 August 2011 - 05:22 PM

Mock & Hayward both attended the Royal Ballet School from an early age, rose through the years assessment after assessment and at the end of their training were both offered contracts. Going through the school is the primary way of getting into the company, some of the dancers enter the international competition circuit many don't, but entrance into the competitions and the large-ish media based attention they bring is no guarantee of getting into the company.

The Royal Ballet is one of the best jobs in the dance world, full year contracts and around £30,000 pa starting wage, everyone wants to join the RB, though of course if you don't go to the school it becomes significantly harder if you're a student and not a star ready to import from another company. Also for dancers who live halfway across the world such as Zhou (US) & Dean (Australia) it's rarely financially or logistically practicable to go to the UK and join the school, even if they are talented enough, it costs around £15,000 a year now and that's where entering the international competitions comes into play, Lausanne has prizes which include scholarships to a top school of the contestant's choice, and they all choose the RB, and in certain cases an apprentice position to the RB. It's a fast track into the company and having a sexy website is neither here nor there, nor self promotion, Lausanne has a website and a great deal of web traffic so any dancer entering the competition is going to have far more google hits. If Mock & Hayward had entered Lausanne their google ratio would have gone up too, just like Zhou & Dean's.

Principals who've benefited from the Lausanne scholarship include Nunez, Cojocaru, McRae, Polunin. But regardless of whether or not they'd had sites and featured in Lausanne videos Dean & Zhou would have entered the RB anyway because of their placings in competitions designed to find talent for the major companies such as Lausanne. It's relatively cheap to create your own site, many mediocre dancers do, it's not cheap to enter the Royal Ballet School without a Lausanne or other form of scholarship. For Mock and Hayward sites were unnecessary, as indeed was entering Lausanne, they had their foot in the door from the age of 10.

#3 Alymer

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 04:47 AM

A very minor point: Nunez was not a Lausanne winner. She spent a year at the Royal Ballet school because under UK legislation, at fifteen she was too young to be employed as a member of the company.

#4 Bella12

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 02:23 PM

A very minor point: Nunez was not a Lausanne winner. She spent a year at the Royal Ballet school because under UK legislation, at fifteen she was too young to be employed as a member of the company.


Another minor point: Tomas Mock was not at White Lodge (the Lower School of the RBS). He joined the Royal Ballet School in the First Year of the Upper School - i.e. at the age of 16 or thereabouts.

#5 variated

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 02:19 AM

Thanks everyone. Just to clarify, I wasn't really asking/speculating about whether self-promotion helped dancers gain entrance into the school or company, I was really wondering what effect it might have on casting/other opportunities once they are in the company; whether there is any difference between dancers arriving with a relatively high profile as compared to those who are less well known.

I've been astonished (and somewhat dismayed) over the past few years in dance (as well as in my own word, classical music) to see the disproportionate level of media attention given to "baby ballerinas" and "prodigies" as if everyone is always looking for the next new thing, moving on quickly once the next even newer thing turns up. It seems that many people are more interested in watching competitions of training dancers than they are watching fully trained, experienced and mature dancers perform. And I wonder whether, as has happened in music, those who win competitions at a young age get "milked" by promoters to exploit that fame quickly before the next batch of competition winners arrive and people lose interest. Maybe that doesn't happen in ballet because professional dancers tend to start in the corps rather than as soloists, but when you see dancers like Whitney Jensen or Olga Smirnova (both of whom received a great deal of publicity as students) start at a higher level, I begin to wonder whether ballet is moving in the same direction.

#6 JMcN

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 04:38 AM

I don't know about ballet going the same way but I think reality TV shows such as "How do you solve a problem like Maria" cause an interesting dilemma where people who are "unknown" are catapulted into the audience eye and win major roles ahead of people with potentially more or at least equal talent who earn their place in the big roles through hard graft and experience.

But there again, has this always happened? I am thinking of the famous Ballet Russe baby ballerinas or, more recently, the LFB baby ballerinas from the mid-80s.

And there again, I don't think this sort of trend is restricted to the Arts! It can happen in any profession.

#7 Simon G

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 05:22 AM

Thanks everyone. Just to clarify, I wasn't really asking/speculating about whether self-promotion helped dancers gain entrance into the school or company, I was really wondering what effect it might have on casting/other opportunities once they are in the company; whether there is any difference between dancers arriving with a relatively high profile as compared to those who are less well known.

I've been astonished (and somewhat dismayed) over the past few years in dance (as well as in my own word, classical music) to see the disproportionate level of media attention given to "baby ballerinas" and "prodigies" as if everyone is always looking for the next new thing, moving on quickly once the next even newer thing turns up. It seems that many people are more interested in watching competitions of training dancers than they are watching fully trained, experienced and mature dancers perform. And I wonder whether, as has happened in music, those who win competitions at a young age get "milked" by promoters to exploit that fame quickly before the next batch of competition winners arrive and people lose interest. Maybe that doesn't happen in ballet because professional dancers tend to start in the corps rather than as soloists, but when you see dancers like Whitney Jensen or Olga Smirnova (both of whom received a great deal of publicity as students) start at a higher level, I begin to wonder whether ballet is moving in the same direction.



Hey Variated,

I think the thing with Smirnova joining the Bolshoi as soloist (besides her undoubted massive talent) was Filin was determined to poach her from the Mariinsky and so his successful gambit was to make her an offer she couldn't refuse. This isn't unprecedented though the Kirov made Nureyev a soloist on entry in order to keep him as he'd received a soloist offer from the Bolshoi.

Jensen, again another massively talented prodigy who'd caused a smash on the competition circuit entered Boston as a corps and was rapidly promoted to second soloist, big talent will invariably be rewarded with a rapid promotion. Vadim Muntagirov at ENB, a Lausanne winner, used his win to join the Royal Ballet School and rose to principal within two years of joining the corps, Polunin took just under four years to make principal from the corps, ditto Steven Mcrae, Alina Cojocaru, again another Lausanne laureate joined the RB as a corps member, was promoted after 16 months to first soloist, then made principal just under a year later. I suppose the moral of this story is that big talent will be recognised and promoted (in most cases) that the competition circuit is invaluable for bringing dancers who due to background, nationality or money wouldn't get to be seen by the big companies.

Though of course it doesn't always work, most dancers enter the corps and sadly most stay there, even with massive talent, there are Varna, YAGP, Lausanne winners languishing in corps all over the world, it's as much to do with the taste and likes of the AD as anything else.

Also many dancers don't grow into early promise and talent or have their injuries which destroy their careers - Julia Bolshakova comes to mind, fast-tracked for stardom her foot injuries developed as a student became chronic as her workload increased.

The brilliant PR stunt of taking a very young dancer has been going on for ages, Diaghilev creating a baby principal with the then 12 year old Markova, demoted her at 14 to corps and was about to reinstate her as an adult principal at 16 when he inconveniently died on her. And then there are those dancers who create a stir as young corps virtuosos and soloists but who fizzle out as principals - Michele Wiles, Paloma Herrera & Bryony Brind come to mind.

Competitions are excellent means for talented dancers to come to the attention of schools who for whatever reason decided against them at the initial selection process for instance Clairemarie Osta & Laetitia Pujol who trained in Bordeaux were offered places at the Paris Opera School and then positions with the corps of the POB after winning prizes at CNSM Paris, Lausanne & Varna, likewise Melissa Hamilton, now a soloist at the Royal was offered a corps contract with the RB after winning the YAGP. Though all these dancers had previously been turned down by the schools associated with their companies at earlier ages. I suppose what competitions gave them was a shot to make it within their companies without having been to the school.

Everyone is always looking for the next "big" thing, every time a new male prodigy comes around there's the ubiquitous "New Nureyev" tag, but then due to the nature of ballet one dancer can't monopolise a whole repertory, it'd destroy their bodies if nothing else and due to the prices of ballet you need as many stars as possible to try and get the punters in. Sadly the media attention surrounding a new "star" is modest to say the least, a new flavour sandwich at Subway gets more widespread attention from the press, I suppose it's all relative.

#8 puppytreats

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 05:44 AM

It sounds as if you are talking about business, not art. Nevertheless, since when has merit been the primary virtue or subject, in any venue? (Monday mornings apparently make me very cynical :< Next, I will be told I am disrespectful and will be kicked off this board....)

#9 Simon G

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 06:50 AM

It sounds as if you are talking about business, not art. Nevertheless, since when has merit been the primary virtue or subject, in any venue? (Monday mornings apparently make me very cynical :< Next, I will be told I am disrespectful and will be kicked off this board....)



It is business. Every seat not sold is a loss for a company, at the moment lyric theatres are operating at about 85% capacity at best, the NYCB has had to close the top tier of the Koch theatre because of seats unsold in many of its performances.

Ballet companies all operate in a deficit and in this economic climate especially that's killing companies. Yes, ballet is art, but you can't eat art, art doesn't pay wages, doesn't keep theatres open. Even with 100% capacity companies couldn't survive without heavy private sponsorship and where available Government subsidy and the lower down the food chain a company is the less available private sponsorship there is.

Stars sell seats, that's irrefutable, companies need stars to survive, except in today's culture even stars mean very little outside of the world of ballet. That's why a Carlos Acosta can continue to perform despite his much waning abilities as he's one of a rare handful of ballet dancers who's managed to make any headway into a wider media circle. Sylvie Guillem was almost unique in the past 20 years as being the only ballerina who could guarantee a full opera house wherever and whenever she danced - there's no one now to match that kind of cachet or charisma and even Guillem remains relatively unknown outside of the dance world. But within the context of dance she was big business and box office gold.

Sadly even competitions like Varna & Lausanne now have practically no penetration into a wider media outside of the ballet media, winning Varna is no longer a guarantee of success or even stardom, but it helps and a company who can find a Polunin, Muntagirov, Bussell, Guillem, Acosta and promote them as a star would be foolish not to do so and most importantly for the public to take hold of this concept that this dancer is a star and will pay top dollar to see them.

Performing arts have always worked as business from Diaghilev to Sol Hurok they all knew no matter how good the product without bums on seats there was no product and any company that thinks itself too good or rarified for commercial concerns won't be operating very long.

Arts need to sell a product and it's no longer a sure bet to hide behind a name such as the Bolshoi, Mariinsky or Royal Ballet, not least because the product they sell is so expensive, stars sell tickets, ticket sales keep companies open and even with the greatest star dancer there's still no guarantee the public will care. As Sol Hurok said "if an audience doesn't want to come nothing will stop them."

#10 variated

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 11:27 AM

I (mostly) agree with Simon that the arts is business these days, but I think that is far more true in the Anglo-Saxon free market world (UK and US) than it is in mainland Europe, where societies tend to value their artists more highly. Take Germany, where every sizeable city(and many towns too) has its opera house, concert hall and ballet company, along with schools and conservatories dedicated to the arts. Take Dortmund and Essen for example, industrial towns only 30 miles apart, and both have world class concert halls as good as anything you will find in London. The audiences are generally better informed, happy to be taxed at a higher level to subsidize the arts and far more open to new ideas and challenging innovations. I don't know how they do it but it's an environment which enables considerable artists (Cranko or Forsythe) to spend years developing their ideas rather than being replaced after one season because they "don't sell".

So while I agree the market is everything in the US and UK (and I know some German friends who fear their economic woes mean things are moving in the same direction in continental Europe) we should not simply accept that is the only way it can ever be.

#11 puppytreats

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 11:56 AM

I (mostly) agree with Simon that the arts is business these days, but I think that is far more true in the Anglo-Saxon free market world (UK and US) than it is in mainland Europe, where societies tend to value their artists more highly. Take Germany, where every sizeable city(and many towns too) has its opera house, concert hall and ballet company, along with schools and conservatories dedicated to the arts. Take Dortmund and Essen for example, industrial towns only 30 miles apart, and both have world class concert halls as good as anything you will find in London. The audiences are generally better informed, happy to be taxed at a higher level to subsidize the arts and far more open to new ideas and challenging innovations. I don't know how they do it but it's an environment which enables considerable artists (Cranko or Forsythe) to spend years developing their ideas rather than being replaced after one season because they "don't sell".

So while I agree the market is everything in the US and UK (and I know some German friends who fear their economic woes mean things are moving in the same direction in continental Europe) we should not simply accept that is the only way it can ever be.


See the article in today's links regarding teaching ballet to homeless people in S. Korea.

#12 bart

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 01:17 PM

See the article in today's links regarding teaching ballet to homeless people in S. Korea.

It's post #3.
http://balletalert.i...953#entry290953

#13 Helene

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 12:22 AM

In the 6 June 2011 issue of "The New Yorker", p. 83, Alex Ross, while reviewing Spring for Music at Carnegie Hall, wrote,

Spring for Musi--which also hosted the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Toledo Symphony, the Albany Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Montreal Symphony [in addition to Oregon Symphony]--felt fresh at every turn... Alas, only the Montrealers, whose music director is the internationally celebrated Kent Nagano, drew a full house, even though no tickets in the series cost more than twenty-five dollars. In classical music, as in the rest of culture, fame drives the box office. Let's hope that future editions of Spring for Music--the festival will run at least through 2013--spread the news that North America possesses dozens of excellent orchestras, and that on a good night any of them can outclass the so-called Big Five. The Oregonians proved the point by thoroughly upstaging the New York Philharmonic, which had played an unremarkable gala program at Carnegie a few nights earlier.



#14 Paul Parish

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 11:36 PM

Another provocative topic, Variated, with many wonderful replies.

So much depends as was briefly noted on what the Artistic Director needs. Balanchine needed young dancers for the works he wanted to create. He let Danilova go -- which was not a disaster for her. Massine needed her, and she and Franklin had a great career dancing Massine's ballets.

It's true, some dancers seem to be like Isadora Duncan good at promoting themselves -- they enter competitions, they blog, they twitter, they cultivate their fans without seeming to be selling out. Daniil Simkin joined this board and talked to us like a member back when he was still a student. Most of us got a good look at him on YouTube, and it was charming to see him doing the same combinations as his father in friendly competition -- and it worked like good PR to make the very boyish boy look like a chip off the old block. And beyond the PR, it was very good dancing and a charming double-portrait of two excellent dancers. Simkin's qualities make him a soloist/principal, not a corps dancer -- his lines are too vivid for him not to pull focus.

Out west have several Youtube stars at SF Ballet -- Sofiane Sylve's amazing pirouettes have been hit on over a million times; Maria Kochetkova went on a reality-TV dance show and danced off with the prize, and gained a tremendous amount of cachet into hte bargain. she was already a principal dancer with everything going for her -- superb line, and a wonderful kinetic quality and appetite for movement. And she's getting used a LOT. Yuan Yuan Tan is a superstar in her native China, and she gets a lot of opening nights. It doesn't hurt that she looks like a supermodel and has a rock-solid technique....

#15 Quiggin

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 11:48 AM

The difference with publicity in the past and present – if that's a current of this thread – is that dancers like Danilova, Farrell, Villella and Acosta wrote their memoirs after long careers, or after a significant series of events as in Acosta's case – while dancers today are writting their memoirs before their careers have barely started, or while they're going on – through social media – in small bursts of everyday detail. In the past this was stuff that only a few insiders knew. There have been lots of great posts here before on this aspect of public relations, and some of them have suggested that as this line between the privacy of the performer and the privacy of the audience member erodes, the great moments of transcendence on the stage seem fewer and fewer.

Added: There is a difference with YouTube which seems to be a primer for what to watch for in a dancer's style – but it does chop things up into small pieces – and you tend to remember the experience in little brilliant clips rather than a part of a whole piece.


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