NYCB and ABT Struggle in Digital Age
Although Some Signs of Hope

Photo: ralphbijker at Flickr, © Creative Commons

The New York Times reports that the final performance of New York City Ballet’s three-week run last summer in Paris will be broadcast on PBS February 17 and 24. As I discussed at length last summer, broadcast television was an important way to expand dance interest in previous decades, but has fallen out of favor recently with NYCB and ABT lagging behind in the digital age. Other companies such as The Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi have supplied its fans with ample product in the form of DVDs and live cinema. In contrast NYCB and ABT have done a terrible job of getting their product out to the masses living outside of New York. The last time NYCB released a full performance video was the 1992 Nutcracker with Macaulay Culkin with limited live cinema (correction: Ivy Lin points out that the 2011 NYCB Nutcracker, live streamed to cinemas, is available on DVD. See the link she provides in the comment section). ABT has been better, with numerous DVDs until 2005 but nothing since. Overall, a dreadful effort by the two U.S. companies of making their dance accessible. Particularly ABT, with a registered trademark of “America’s National Ballet Company®.”

Is there a change in attitude at NYCB and ABT on entering the 2000s digital era and catching up to other ballet companies? The NYCB broadcast may be a small step forward; hopefully, the video will be on YouTube so dance fans outside of the U.S. can see, with more performances to come.

As for ABT, there is recognition at upper levels that the company must do something. In an interview in the ABT program during the company’s fall season, new ABT Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett discussed the importance of connecting with fans globally:

In addition to physically travelling with our dancers, crew, sets and costumes, we can tour virtually and connect digitally to fans and audiences all over the world. Striking imagery and compelling video is everything in the mobile, digital era, and dance is inherently visual. You don’t need language to understand the power and beauty of bodies moving through space. We are poised to build on this advantage.

With Kara providing leadership, maybe ABT will up its marketing game on global outreach. She has an impressive background as a Managing Director at Lincoln Center International with a Harvard MBA, an institution that prides itself for training leaders to “think outside the box.” She is now at an institution that, from a marketing perspective, has been living inside a small box for years.

On the February NYCB PBS broadcasts, the Times says that the programs were made possible in large part because of French interest in the company: they were produced for Bel Air Media by François Duplat and directed by Vincent Bataillon. The performances may have been available in France through streaming in July. In my earlier post, I included a link to a ballet fan that downloaded the broadcast to his Google Drive folder and another posted to YouTube. Both have been taken down. An interesting bit of trivia from the article: the first CBS color broadcast in 1951 featured NYCB performing Balanchine’s La Valse.