Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Devoted Fan

Dance has always been in the backwater among all the art forms. It is sad but true. I could write page after page speculating on why this is the case, but here I'm going to focus on one particular factor: there simply is not much dance to see. Because it's a performing art, you simply have to see it live, and unless you live in London, New York, Paris or some other major cities, there's not a lot going on. Fans of opera will say the same thing. But whereas opera aficionados can make do with recordings—and it's no substitute I know—dance lovers are in a much worse situation. There really aren't a lot of dance videos available, and this is the main problem in dance studies as a discipline: documentation. Only recently have dance professionals started filming dance and thinking about preserving their artistic visions for later generations. Try looking for a Martha Graham video, you'll most likely have to go to a Martha Grahm archive or maybe the New York Public Library (which has an excellent dance collection, by the way).

Among the films available, they aren't easy to find either: only specialty DVD stores stock dance DVDs, and even when they do, the selection is small. Online the choices are limited as well. Moreover, the DVDs that are widely available are mostly by major ballet companies, so it is rather disappointing that there isn't a lot of diversity among recorded materials. Because of economic reasons, which are understandable—ballet companies are barely surviving; producing a DVD is about making money—most companies play it safe. So we have countless versions of Swan Lake, Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker etc. in the market but barely anything else. And I love Swan Lake, Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker (when done right, that is), but like food, you can't eat the same thing every meal. A modern/contemporary dance video is almost impossible to find.

And therein lies the problem: unless you are the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, or Alvin Ailey (and some other major companies), just selling tickets is a headache enough. Filming your show to produce a DVD is the last thing on your mind, or doing a big ad campaign for that matter. But if you don't get your work out there somehow, how is the public going to be exposed to dance? And if people aren't exposed to dance, who's going to come? At the same time you can't lower your ticket prices otherwise you're going to go in the red, but since seeing a dance in general costs more money than seeing a movie (not necessarily true in the case of London, by the way), no one buys the tickets but the devoted dance fan, already exposed and obsessed.

The urgent task for dance companies now is to figure out ways to increase the public's exposure to dance—and many companies are working hard on this, some successfully, some not. The most important task of all, though, is to get to know the devoted, obsessed dance fan. How did he/she become one? Is it just something that just happens or are there ways to cultivate your future audience?

If you are a devoted fan of something—be it art (which I'm sure Courtauld students are), music, theater, soccer, etc—how did you become one?

PS. Then there is Youtube, which may (or may not) change everything. I'll write more about Youtube and dance in the future.

- Paisid A.

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