The truth is, she says, “I like to go out and have a good time. I listen to rap music. I eat normal foods. We’re normal people.”
Vance isn’t surprised that the ads resonate well with young people. “When I look at like celebrities or athletes, I always tend to go toward the one I can connect with more and who seems more real and down-to-earth,” she says. “I want to know more about them.”
But Bentley insists that broadcasting a radically different message through ad campaigns and social media in order to stay relevant is a “desperate” move for the “fragile art form in more than that ballet is just evanescence on any given night… The cost of having a theater and hopefully a live orchestra is just so expensive… for something that lasts 20 minutes, then it’s gone. People have to pay 60 bucks to see it.”
“That’s a really hard sell.”
While money is a continual struggle for many ballet companies, Bentley says, the economic challenges are inconsequential to what a company really needs to be successful, which is great choreography and great dancing. “In the end, people will only stay if there is really something wonderful there,” she says, adding that with many of the great choreographers like George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins now gone, the world of dance is falling from an “unprecedented height in history.”
The 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, saw a plethora of great choreographers, including Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp, she says.
“Many of these people were alive and making dances.” Now, however, “we’re in a furlough,” she adds, likening today’s dance world to that of the Post Roman Empire.
“It all fits in with the fact that the boom is long over and there’s a certain desperation,” Bentley says. “It’s a miracle that the curtain goes up on any company on any night.”
Bentley’s views reflect opinions of other ballet experts such as Jennifer Homans, who argues in her book, Apollo’s Angels—named one of the 10 best books of 2010 by The New York Times—that the days of ballet are numbered. In the epilogue, Homans writes that current dance artists have been unable to rise to the caliber of their predecessors.
“They seem crushed and confused by [ballet’s] iconoclasm and grandeur, unable to build on its foundation yet unwilling to throw it off in favor of a vision of their own,” Homans writes. “Contemporary choreography veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation—usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess.”
While current dancers and choreographers in the ballet world would agree that great talents like Balanchine are incredibly rare, most have a more positive view of where the art form is going.
Kaiser isn’t worried about his talent. He says in its 47th season, the company has been “turning in one incredible performance after another.”
As for the ad campaign chasing traditional patrons away, Kaiser says: “Whether they liked it or not, what’s important is that everybody noticed it.”
He believes that if choreographers continue to create innovative works and find ways to introduce ballet to new audiences by showing it in a “different light, the art form’s going to be here forever.”
“Ballet companies are constantly evolving, they’re never stagnant,” he says. “The most important part of my job is to keep pushing [the company] forward. I intend to do that as long as I’m here.”
“It will be exciting to see how it changes.”
Images provided by Candice DeTore and Alexander Iziliaev.