I have heard the question a lot lately, is ballet dying? The first time I heard it I thought, “Well isn’t that a silly thing to say.” It went in one ear and out the other. Then I began hearing it more, in less indirect ways I guess – so I began giving the question the attention it deserved. Documentaries, discussions in the studio, and relative articles seemed to be pressing the issue further in current news. Two pressing questions, which often come up in meetings and boardrooms across ballet companies are: (1) Who will support the ballet once the older and more supportive patrons and donors are no longer with us, and (2) How can we get younger audiences in the seats?
Each company has ideas and attempts about fixing the problem, or initializing this shift. Whether it’s offering beer and ballet events, coordinating more dancer meet and greet events at local hotspots, or advertising more stylistically and edgy; the attempt is being made. However, I can’t help but think about the bigger picture. Why is ballet said to be dying?
I’m not going to lie – I’m not so sure I have an accurate grasp of the past. However, traditionally ballet was an aristocratic court art. An art form that was clearly defined, respected, and culturally significant. Perhaps there were less questions behind the intention of ballet, or maybe people had greater faith in its meaning and intent.
Today’s generation of ballet comes with a mix of contemporary and classical works, with an attempt to keep the past alive, and the future vibrant and new. There is no definite answer as to what works and what doesn’t, and clearly there is no longer a societal accepted groundwork and support system to rely upon. This makes it harder for current choreographers, directors, dancers, and audience members to pick and choose the right answer. Instead, inside the ballet, we can get boggled down by the question, will he/she/they/everyone like it and come back? However, it is not fair to say that ballet’s existence today is not coupled with people that are extremely passionate about keeping ballet alive.
The glorifying aspect of ballet, as it is today, is forgiving. Traditionalists may attempt to utter that ballet is dying, but is that really fair to say? It’s much more fair to say that ballet is an evolving art form, which realistically moves along the downward and upward curves of the world. Ballet is not strong enough to stand alone, so mistakes must be made in attempt to keep it alive.
It is easier for the younger generation of today to become distracted. It’s acceptable for a thirty-year-old today to be on his/her 3rd career, 10th apartment, unmarried, technologically savvy, adventurous, and yet educated. People are curious about knowing a little bit of everything, even if it makes them uniquely different than others. For ballet to survive, this theory of behavior (whatever it may be) must be understood. So is it realistically fair to compare ballet as it started to ballet as it is today?
Today, ballet organizations are forced to run more like a business than ever before. Good or bad, companies center around the science of behavior, cost-benefit analysis, profit longevity, and budgets. This can be a sad truth, but it is also a part of the big picture in helping to keep ballet thriving.
On the flip side – even with an essentially necessary business approach – ballet is guided by it’s artistic principals and captivating purpose. We all perform for one function, which is to further the art form. There may be a traditionalist sense that ballet is dying, but there is a stronger sense that ballet will ALWAYS survive. I have compiled a list of reasons why:
- Yes ballet is different than it was in the nineteenth century, but so is the the rest of the world. Everything about the world is different, and for good reason. Change happens with time.
- Not everyone can be a ballet dancer (although this article likes to argue differently). Technique is harder, more demanding, and greater than it ever has been before. Children have to be more pliant, smarter, flexible and well-rounded to meet the demands of being a professional. Audiences still come to see stars, their favorites, and ballet dancers that move them.
- Ballet is defined differently than it was in the nineteenth century. Ballet is no longer for the elite, and upper-class. Ballet suits many socioeconomic groups with it’s diverse repertoire and broadened perspective. It is not about a generational gap; it’s about a new appealing and evolving repertoire that naturally has evolved with time.
- Despite the recent recession many companies have continued to thrive.
- Resurgence of ballet/dance in the media. Like Misty Copeland’s recent Diet Dr. Pepper commercial, Nissan Altima’s commerical, and Levis Jeans full-version commercial with the Korean National Ballet.
- Tutus are still being sold, for aspiring young girls. Places like Target, the same place you go to buy creamed corn and windex, also sell tutus. The profession will always have an untouchable, dreamlike sense.
- YouTube has changed the evolution of ballet, popularizing movement quality, imaginations, choreography, companies and dancers. Ballet is on fire.
- There are no longer just ballet stars. There are now star choreographers mixing up the narrow minded definition of ballet star.
- Stage hands, wardrobe, ballet dancers, coaches, donors, orchestra members, and everyone involved in the ballet world will function for something larger.
The truth is ballet is not complacent.