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Ballet Audience Demographics

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The first of today's Links is an article in "The Washington Post" about ballet audiences. Boer Deng writes that while other audiences are diversifying, ballet audiences in 2012 were:

  • 80 percent white
  • 2/3 female
  • More than 2/3 from households making over $150K a year.

The article also cites PNB's research into young audiences, with the biggest obstacle being that young people didn't think ballet is for them.

Deng also states that only the symphony has similar demographics. That's why I was struck by this article in my Facebook feed from WFMT, which describes what Kent Nagano is doing in Montreal, where the symphony has younger and more diverse demographics:


We feel that for young people, you should raise the bar. You should raise it as high as possible, with as great and provocative repertoire as you can. When you're young, your brain is the most active, open, and pliable. It can accept with the most flexibility. That is the time to make things more rich and complex, intriguing, inspiring.

I think a diet of black and white Balanchine is in order, if that is the prescription.

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Sandi and I had a conversation in email about the upcoming visit by Grand Rapids Ballet, whose AD is long-time PNB star Patricia Barker, and who are bringing two programs to Seattle, both of which are characteristic of the company's rep:

One program is Olivier Wevers' "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The other is a mixed bill, Penny Saunders' "Slight," Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "WRITTEN & FORGOTTEN," David Parsons' "The Envelope," and Mario Radacovsky's "Beethoven's 5th." Saunders, Lopez Ochoa, and Radacovsky have extensive ballet backgrounds, but, like Wevers, choreograph contemporary ballet/dance, and Parsons comes from the modern school. Google isn't helping me to find how many of these are company commissions -- the GRB website isn't the most robust, information-wise -- but it's clear that there's a vision and unity behind these rep choices.

GRB is a small company of 18 + six apprentices, and that's not a corps of swans. However, they are doing narrative ballet: this season, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Lopez Ochoa's "Dangerous Liaisons," and the under-rated Bruce Wells' "Cinderella." Wells' is the only one in the neoclassical/classical tradition.

David Parsons' "The Envelope" is from 1986, the same era as much of the Kylian works that have become ubiquitous among ballet companies, but the rest, if they aren't premieres, are at least relatively new. Grand Rapids ballet is building an audience that has a sense of ownership of and connection to this rep. Whether it's as intellectually challenging as Nagano's rep in Montreal, I don't know, but it doesn't seem to have been an obstacle to gaining a new and loyal audience in Grand Rapids.

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Here for just a moment -- Radacovsky has been something of a house choreographer for the company -- they do a number of his works. Not sure about Lopez and Ochoa -- I'll do a little digging.

And they did a Swan Lake last year -- not sure where they got their swans...

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Sign me up (for the Balanchine B&W)!

Me too!

I agree that it's essential to raise the bar and under no circumstances to dumb down the art form. Over the past decade I've been witness to the latter; it has been an unmitigated artistic disaster, and it also hasn't worked. Instead of acting as a "gateway," it has only resulted in further degradation of repertoire.

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