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Ballet Rehearsals, Live and Online

In our work for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Building Demand for the Arts program, Alan and I have been trying to gain a better understanding of what it means to build demand and what strategies are effective in doing so. In light of this work, I was interested to hear about the Joffrey Ballet’s live, online broadcast of a Swan Lake rehearsal a few weeks back (recording available here). While this was not specifically billed as an effort to stimulate demand, I was interested to see how online viewers would experience the rehearsal and what they would be able to get out of it. Based on my experience with other demand-building initiatives, I expected that seeing the choreographer and the dancers at work in rehearsal would help humanize and demystify an art form that can seem rather regimented and technical — and this suspicion was indeed confirmed. What I didn’t expect was the importance that the online comment thread would play in my experience of the broadcast.

While only a small portion of the 1,000 people viewing at any moment posted comments, it was fascinating to see what others — ranging from novices to dance experts — were reacting to and thinking about. Comments ranged from rather banal observations about the dancers’ physiques to technical questions about the dancers’ pointe shoes, memories of dancing earlier in life, and dreams of future careers in ballet. Seeing this range of responses felt liberating in that it suggested that there’s no “right” way to experience dance. Being relatively inexperienced in ballet, I appreciated that Joffrey staff participated in the discussion, posting answers to viewers’ questions. This could even be expanded to provide more background information about the ballet, the rehearsal process, the dancers, and other contextualizing information.

From the perspective of building demand for the art form, comments such as “I’m not from the dance world at all and this is FASCINATING!” and “I have to see this in Chicago!” sound promising. Whether or not this translates into increased ticket sales for Joffrey’s upcoming production remains to be seen, but the short-term returns might not be the only measure by which demand-building initiatives should be judged. It may be that online broadcasts of rehearsals increase demand for dance classes, educate future dance patrons, or stimulate interest in the art form in other ways.

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