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Does it matter that ballet gets so little exposure in U. S. popular cuIf ballet continues to be more and more marginalized, can it survive?


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#1 Tapfan

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 06:53 PM

I find it sad and frustrating that the only time that ballet is mentioned in the American mainstream media, is when the artistic director of a major company has acid thrown in his face.

Can and should there be another ballet boom that gets people other than knowledgeable devotees interested in this art form?

And to experience said boom, must there be another perfect storm of Balanchine, Baryshnikov and Kirkland-level talent, all performing in a media capital like NYC?

#2 LiLing

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 01:10 PM

I find it sad and frustrating that the only time that ballet is mentioned in the American mainstream media, is when the artistic director of a major company has acid thrown in his face.

Can and should there be another ballet boom that gets people other than knowledgeable devotees interested in this art form?

And to experience said boom, must there be another perfect storm of Balanchine, Baryshnikov and Kirkland-level talent, all performing in a media capital like NYC?


Interesting question. the "boom" wasn't limited to ballet. There was a dance boom in the 70s that benefited all forms. Modern companies toured universities extensively, and the Graham Co. had Broadway seasons.
Now days the audiences for classical music, live theatre and dance are shrinking, and aging. Why? Is it the dominance of electronic media, lack of exposure and education, or simply the high cost of tickets? My guess is it is a combination of all these.

#3 Drew

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 01:48 PM

The ballet boom was fueled by Fonteyn-Nureyev before Kirkland-Baryshnikov and took place in a context of creativity that included, in addition to new ballets by Balanchine, occasional new ballets by Ashton. Even Tudor did a couple of new ballets notably The Leaves are Fading -- and there was also a context of dance talent better known to ballet fans but still just as extraordinary (Bruhn, Sibley-Dowell, Farrell etc.) --

That said, I think ballet is in a bit if mini-Renaissance right now that includes attention from outside the ballet world -- attention that preceded the attack on Filin. Much as I hated it, Black Swan was a symptom, as are the ballet-linked tv shows, and the attention to Osipova's mugging a couple of seasons ago (discussed, say, on Rachel Maddow's show) and to Hallberg being hired by the Bolshoi. Hallberg appeared on morning tv shows and Stephen Colbert.

I tend to believe that it is not a coincidence that this has been happening when there are some intriguing new choreographers on the scene AND remarkable ballerina talent in particular. I think that in some indirect way, when exciting things are happening inside the art form it does get communicated to the general culture in however attenuated or sensationalized a fashion.

Can ballet ever be the broader phenomenon it was during the cold war (which is arguably what really fueled a lot of the media attention to ballet--not the talent per se--because otherwise Erik Bruhn's arabesque should have been enough to get a Time Magazine cover)? Well, maybe not. Especially not in a slowing economy. But I'm more optimistic about the overall fate of ballet today than I was say 10 or 15 years ago--and that includes its ability to attract new audiences even if it's not the 'same' as during the boom years.

(Some years ago on this site we had a thread on whether there were any ballerinas around comparable to the greats of the past including the "ballet boom" and though several of us weighed in with our candidates, no-one said "what an absurd question..." etc. I think today we actually are in an era when it would be much harder to suggest we don't have great ballerinas or remarkable talent dancing regularly on the world's stages. Are they comparable to Kirkland (my own all time favorite)? Kirkland, Farrell, Makarova will always be my ur-pantheon...but I honestly don't feel the need to yearn for "the good old days" when I'm watching the best ballerinas today in their best roles. I started to include a list as part of my comments, but it was getting so long I thought people wouldn't take it seriously. I think remarkable male talent today is thinner on the ground, but we do have some remarkable male dancers too w. ABT the home of 2 of the best Cornejo and (half-time) Hallberg.)

#4 dirac

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 05:40 PM

I don't think ballet will ever return to the Sixties-Seventies boom, which was fueled as much by politics as by talent. Nureyev and Baryshnikov were sensations, but without their sensational defections it's unlikely either would have achieved quite the same level of mass public recognition.

Much as I hated it, Black Swan was a symptom, as are the ballet-linked tv shows,


I'd suggest respectfully that Black Swan has been as much impetus as symptom. Without Natalie Portman pushing the project it probably wouldn't have been made, and its somewhat unexpected box-office success set off renewed popular interest in ballet. I'm not sure the Ballet West reality show happens without Black Swan as a popular reference point.

I agree that ballet seems to be in a very good place right now.....

#5 sandik

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 05:46 PM

Interesting question. the "boom" wasn't limited to ballet. There was a dance boom in the 70s that benefited all forms. Modern companies toured universities extensively, and the Graham Co. had Broadway seasons.
Now days the audiences for classical music, live theatre and dance are shrinking, and aging. Why? Is it the dominance of electronic media, lack of exposure and education, or simply the high cost of tickets? My guess is it is a combination of all these.


The "Dance Boom" was fueled by a combination of many elements, and was felt all across the art form, as you point out. I hesitate to use the perfect storm analogy, but that does come close to truth here. You had a baby boom generation coming out of the 1960s and into adulthood at the same time that many of the arts support organizations were just getting established (NEA, regional, state and local agencies). Dance was the recipient of several major funding decisions, not the least of which was the Dance Touring Program at the NEA, that funded tours and residencies by all kinds of dance companies that otherwise would rarely have left NYC. Not only did this give communities across the country new access to dance (the residency format meant that there were classes, lectures and other educational events as well as performances), but it also gave dancers something like full employment and choreographers more time to work with their artists -- all round, the DTP was a transformational project.

#6 dirac

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Posted 03 February 2013 - 09:51 PM

Good points, sandik.

#7 Kerry1968

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 05:05 AM

There's actually a very high level of interest in ballet at the moment. It's in part being fueled by social media and especially Youtube - something entirely new and promising. What there doesn't seem to be a lot of at the moment is financial support. Institutions desperately need to find some way of converting the former into the latter. As for the Cold War Years, I think what distinguished that period was the unprecedented manner in which governments (in the USSR, Great Britain, and the US) promoted ballet and put it to the front of national cultural life. The circumstances which led to this were very specific to the Cold War and will probably never be repeated again.

#8 sandik

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 12:19 PM

There's actually a very high level of interest in ballet at the moment. It's in part being fueled by social media and especially Youtube - something entirely new and promising. What there doesn't seem to be a lot of at the moment is financial support. Institutions desperately need to find some way of converting the former into the latter.


We've been trying to find that mechanism for a long time!

#9 Jayne

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 01:18 PM

It's very politically profitable for Republicans to demonize the National Endowment for the Arts and Public Television. I wish we could deflate this issue by switching to a voluntary directive on tax forms to send $10 to the NEA. This would be similar to the option of directing $5 towards political campaigns. I think the majority of people would donate, and the NEA could set aside some of that money to fund grants of PBS broadcasts of Dance in America. It would be win/win for everyone - the Republican party could say they eliminated tax payer funding from involuntarily funding the arts, PBS would get more money than the usual way, American Art (dance and otherwise) would get more TV exposure, and dance companies would have more NEA funding.

If 100 million volunteered $10 towards the NEA, that would bring funding up to $1 billion. Consider that the US population po is about 66% the size of Europe - and we should have similar quantity and quality of cultural institutions. I think pop artists would support the campaign too - imagine if Lady Gaga accepts her Grammy and says "Please give $10 of your taxes for the arts!" in her acceptance speech, it could be amazing.

#10 California

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 02:15 PM

It's very politically profitable for Republicans to demonize the National Endowment for the Arts and Public Television. I wish we could deflate this issue by switching to a voluntary directive on tax forms to send $10 to the NEA. This would be similar to the option of directing $5 towards political campaigns. I think the majority of people would donate, and the NEA could set aside some of that money to fund grants of PBS broadcasts of Dance in America. It would be win/win for everyone - the Republican party could say they eliminated tax payer funding from involuntarily funding the arts, PBS would get more money than the usual way, American Art (dance and otherwise) would get more TV exposure, and dance companies would have more NEA funding.

If 100 million volunteered $10 towards the NEA, that would bring funding up to $1 billion. Consider that the US population po is about 66% the size of Europe - and we should have similar quantity and quality of cultural institutions. I think pop artists would support the campaign too - imagine if Lady Gaga accepts her Grammy and says "Please give $10 of your taxes for the arts!" in her acceptance speech, it could be amazing.


But the check-off to the Presidential Campaign fund does NOT reduce your tax refund and the arts check-off would. Some states (both California and Colorado) have long check-off lists of worthy causes on their state income tax forms where you can have some of your refund sent -- everything from the environment to the arts to battered women. I don't know how much they collect that way. California also tried a lot of different types of license plates (including one for the arts) for which you paid a higher fee, and the difference went to those organizations. So this can be done pretty easily on the state level, but I don't know how successful any of this is.

The US is very good at allowing tax deductions (if you itemize) for charitable contributions to all sorts of groups with 501©(3) status, including the arts. Those are really tax expenditures of public funds, although we don't always think of them that way. In this regard, at least, the US is far ahead of Europe (and Asia) in support for worthy causes.

It has always annoyed me that people complain that their tax money is being used on things they find morally objectionable (whether funding the arts or abortions). My tax money is spent on a lot of things I find morally objectionable (the Iraq war, Federal capital punishment, just for starters), yet nobody seems worried about that.

#11 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 04:01 PM

[size=4][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]

The US is very good at allowing tax deductions (if you itemize) for charitable contributions to all sorts of groups with 501©(3) status, including the arts. Those are really tax expenditures of public funds, although we don't always think of them that way. [/font][/size]
[size=4][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]

[/font][/size]

[size=4][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Absolutely! The tax subsidy provided to 501c(3) organizations -- including everything from the Metropolitan Opera to the dinky little community chorus I sing with -- adds up to real money. According to Giving USA, donations to charitable organizations in 2011 totaled $298.42 billion (about 2% of GDP). Assuming that the entire $298 billion was deducted from income that would otherwise have been taxed at 18% 20% -- the estimated average US Federal tax rate for all households in 2011 2010 -- that's about $60 $54 billion in foregone tax revenue.[/font][/size]

[Oops! I had to make some edits. The tax rate I pulled the first time around was published in 2011 but was based on (actual) 2008 tax data. My updated rate is based estimated 2010 tax data published by Brookings Institution's Tax Policy Center. Apologies! ]

[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Whether there should be a deduction for charitable contributions or not is another matter ... but the tax subsidy -- or "spending through the tax code" as it's often called in policy discussions -- is real.[/font]

[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]You can find a lot of interesting information about US charitable contributions at the National Park Service website. (I can't even guess as to why it's there of all places ...) Here's a taste of what's there:[/font]

2011 Contributions By Type of Recipient Organization

Religion $95.88 billion
Education $38.87 billion
Gifts to Foundations $25.83 billion
Human Services $35.39 billion
Public-Society Benefit $21.37 billion
Health $24.75 billion
International Affairs $22.68 billion
Arts, Culture & Humanities $13.12 billion
Environment & Animals $7.81 billion
Foundation Grants to Individuals $3.75 billion
Unallocated $8.97 billion

#12 sandik

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 04:44 PM

How interesting -- thanks so much for the heads-up about the Park Services website (of course, with the sequester, who knows how long any of that will be supported...)

The difficulty with funding through a dedicated project, whether it's a license plate fee (which I think a majority of the states do) or a box to check off on your tax return, is that the most "attractive" programs do fairly well, while the necessary but plain services go begging without return. We're happy to give to make a new park -- less thrilled to give to clean up litter in a park we already have.

#13 Jack Reed

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 08:34 PM

$13 billion! The idea of a check-off is interesting, to say the least. (And timely. I'm here now because my head was starting to swim from trying to gather my annual tax data.) The problem is, how to disperse the money. Only the NEA?

I haven't seen persuasive analysis, but I suspect lower (subsidized) ticket prices and the quality of the old Dance in America PBS series, which showed casually-interested people what the experience of watching theatrical dance is, were major factors in the old "dance boom." A story I've only heard said that the morning after the first broadcast, featuring the Joffrey Ballet, there was a line at the ticket-office window in the lobby of the City Center, where the Joffrey was going to open, out the door and down 55th Street.

As to how to foment a new "dance boom," I've long been a proponent of the "free-sample" promotion method, of which television is an example, as well as drawing attention from those [size=4]Michael Kaiser calls marginal buyers - those who attend performances of similar arts[/size][size=4]. Although the classical-music-loving guests I've taken to ballet performances - or shown ballet videos at home - respond very favorably, I have to admit I don't think many continued on their own nickel. (But many were graduate students, who don't have a lot of nickels.) Yet, I know no one who has seen advertisements for ballet performances in classical-music program books. Has anyone here? (Not that a marketer unfamiliar with either performing art can easily write persuasive copy.)[/size]

#14 sandik

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 08:49 PM

I go to the symphony only rarely, so my experience is probably statistically insignificant, but I have seen display ads for the ballet in the symphony program, as well as in programs for local theater performances. And the local classical music radio station has started simulcasting from the ballet as well, usually program-length works, a couple times a season. There are always improvements that can be made, but the ballet seems to be marketing themselves fairly robustly to people who are already "culture consumers." The trick is to get newbies in the door...

#15 kbarber

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 04:36 AM

I've always wondered why ballet doesn't court the figure-skating crowd more actively. It seems a natural crossover to me. And, at least in Canada, there are LOTS of figure-skating fans.


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