Virtually There

In 1973 the Royal Ballet went on a historical tour to Brazil bringing 110 dancers including its star Margot Fonteyn to 85,000 people across the country. It was that year’s cultural highlight with tales of roaring audiences and of dancers who would not dare step onstage until Fonteyn’s reassurances that crowd commotions were entirely normal that side of the Atlantic. That one visit the Royal Ballet made to Brazil was a big deal and yet, you will have trouble finding any substantive evidence of it online.

Fast forward to 2009. The Royal Ballet’s no less historical tour to Cuba (the first international ballet company to visit this balletomane nation in over 30 years) has  just drawn to a close. If you are interested on the topic you can not only google content posted by conventional media from all around the globe but also pictures posted by local residents, blogs, tweets, Facebook groups, web discussion forums. We might not have been there, but thanks to all of this we can share in the occasion. And, unlike what happened to the Brazil tour material, 40 years from now this may all still be floating around the web in one way or another.

In the dance world (and more generally in the arts world) we’ve come a long way since Arnold Haskell, eminent critic & balletomania’s “patient zero” spoke against filming ballet for posterity. If it weren’t for the rich and diverse ballet content on YouTube (questions of copyright aside) we might have never had so much exposure to foreign and/or historical ballet performances. Ballet companies are realizing the importance of educating and engaging with their audiences through every social media means at their disposal to preserve the future of the art form, though as Philip Kennicott rightly notes in this excellent article (via Opera blog Intermezzo) there is still much room for improvement, both in content and approach.

Does their investment in social media pay off? This Forbes article claims the Royal Opera House had no significant box office boost via Facebook and Twitter. However, the article does not clarify how they correlated Facebook use and ticket buying. Over here whilst we have not increased our  theatre bookings  because of Facebook and Twitter, we feel we have an improved cultural experience as audience members. If we miss out on an interesting performance due to geographical barriers or any other reason, it is now possible to feel as if we are virtually there”. And all of that leads to “brand loyalty”.

Look no further than the recent Oregon Ballet rescue campaign, which reached fever pitch thanks to social media, for an example of social media’s potential. Perhaps it’s too early to tell whether these new marketing avenues will lead to more ticket sales but it certainly will lead to a more cultured audience, breaking down of geographical barriers and maybe a ballet universe instead of a microcosm. At least that’s what we would like to see in the near future.

Compare & Contrast

Because we are avid social media participants and keen “ballet networkers” we thought we might compare & contrast, from an audience perspective, different ballet companies and the way they approach these marketing channels. We’d also love to hear about what works for those reading this post so feel free to weigh in!

The Headstarters (in alphabetical order)

Picture 4American Ballet Theatre

What’s working: A great Facebook group with a library of pictures and interesting updates (that’s where we first heard of Veronika Part on Letterman). Very good ballet education content on main website including online dictionary and ballet synopses. They also have content rich micro sites for certain ballets.

What we’d love to see: ABT is not yet on Twitter or YouTube. Their website is more substance than form, we’re all for that but a little bit more styling would be welcome. The ballet “micro sites” within the main site can be hard to track down.

Picture 10New York City Ballet

What’s working: Partnering with interactive agency AKQA in their social media project was a wise move. NYCB is “everywhere out there”: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the quality of the content is  good and generally in sync throughout all platforms. Their website strikes a great balance between style and substance, with heavy emphasis on education.

What we’d love to see: The biggest downside is the “no comment policy” on YouTube videos. Likewise, their Facebook page does not show Fan & NYCB’s wall postings on the same spot, which effectively means reader comments are not visible. There may be a wish to prevent flippant comments & rogue users (esp. those heated debates that take place on YouTube, we understand) but surely anything abusive could be easily deleted. DVD releases would also be extremely welcome.

Picture 2Royal Opera House

What’s working: Like NYCB, the ROH’s new media project is completely cross-platform with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They have a very stylish website and seriously eye catching marketing campaigns. The open air and cinema screenings are also a huge bonus and have viral potential.

What we’d like to see: They had started a Royal Ballet blog project last year during the China tour but this seems to have stalled. Perhaps blogging is too time consuming but we’d love to see more rehearsal material, pictures and backstage scoop, perhaps elsewhere if not on the blog. The videos are fantastic if a little hard to locate, same with other educational content on their website. The FB and Twitter postings could also be juicier.

Other Notable Headstarters:

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and Dutch National Ballet (all with high quality educational videos), Scottish Ballet, ENB & Houston Ballet (for their tweets), The Joffrey and San Francisco Ballet (for their tweets and great blog postings).

The “Catcher uppers”

Picture 13

The Mariinsky

Their recently developed new media initiative launched an English language (impressive!) YouTube channel and a Facebook group. We’d love to see them on Twitter and more educational content on their website. But perhaps our biggest wishlist item would be cinema screenings of selected pieces which they do not typically tour and which we cannot always travel to Russia to catch!

Picture 11The Royal Danish Ballet

They might not be fully social media operative yet but their website certainly looks the part with plenty of content in English and a great selection of press photos which are available to download. Their principal dancers have an official Facebook group. We’d love to see them on all platforms, the world needs to learn more about this treasure of a company.

The “Cozy Comforters”

Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi, La Scala

As far as we know, none of these companies have launched into social media despite their international visibility. POB banks mainly on their DVD releases and La Scala on cinema screenings. Both are honorable efforts but we would like to see them embracing multimedia and educational content, same goes for the Bolshoi. Even better if they all start tweeting.

What’s next in new media and social media?


Iphone Applications

Social Media Aggregators

Same time relays/IPlayers


As all these ballet companies start to explore the opportunities of new media, what will it take to really be “Virtually There”? There is a maze of content in all forms which could be aggregated across the various media forms, in a centralized way to help the audiences find exactly what they are looking for. With many companies becoming increasingly innovative they should push the boundaries from a Tweet here, a Videoclip and a Facebook posting there to lead the way and make ballet increasingly more accessible (in all senses of the word) with dynamic multi -platform strategies.

See also:

Our note on the best dance pages on Facebook [Link]

Disclaimer: Logo & images copyright belongs to their respective owners.

Likes ballets that taste like 85% cocoa: pure, extra bitter, dark or intense. Her favorites are La Sylphide, Manon, Mayerling, Ondine, Symphonic Variations and McGregor's Chroma. Her favorite Ratmansky ballets are: The Little Humpbacked Horse, Russian Seasons, Cinderella and The Shostakovich Trilogy. She is always ready to chase new Ratmanskys around the globe. Non ballet: literature, theatre, opera, rock, art, food, travel, fashion, translating and interpreting.


  • [...] But this video outreach goes well beyond cameo appearances. Dance has come a long way since Arnold Haskell uttered that ballet had no place in video, and virtually every major ballet company runs their own YouTube channel further opening up the [...]

  • [...] But this video outreach goes well beyond cameo appearances. Dance has come a long way since Arnold Haskell uttered that ballet had no place in video, and virtually every major ballet company runs their own YouTube channel further opening up the [...]

  • May 6, 2010

    Ballet Goes Web 2.0

    [...] Ballet companies, choreographers, dancers, writers and bloggers are realising the importance of educating and engaging with audiences via social media to promote ballet as an art form. Through the rich and diverse ballet content on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and blogs we now have exposure to ballet events around the globe as if we were “virtually there”. [...]

  • April 6, 2010

    David D

    Hi. I found this article interesting as the company where I live (Rochester City Ballet) is dabbling in the world of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and their own web page. I personally wish that they would ditch Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and just have it all centralized on an awesome webpage. And actually, all of the stuff found on these other sites is essentially on their central web page. The only thing that I think they get out of Facebook is gauging how many friends they have (popularity gauge).

    First, I do understand and support NYCBs no comment policy. Over the past few months, I have seen that there are a lot of horrible people on the Net, (freaks, creeps, losers and weirdos, attention feeders). And it gets to be uncomfortable when their comments keep showing up on every single post made. Revealing the inner workings of ballet and the studio is awefully risky because this isn’t a world made up nice people who are united in promoting the good of humanity. This is a more like a world of 50% good people and 50% monsters. So, guarding your heart, your inner workings, your privacy is essential.

    I feel that just like in the 60′s and 70′s, you should be able to submit private fanmail and if it is decent and good, it will be responded to with thanks. And that should be enough. It gets weird if the only reason people are posting the most trivial of comments is so they can see their profile photo on the fansite. I avoided MySpace because of those trivial “Yo what up” wall postings.

    I will say that I LOVE the way the San Francisco ballet does things. They have an amazing blog and fantastic videos of their principals.

    Also, what I REALLY would like to see out of New York City Ballet and other companies is much better merchandise. I went to see NYCB at Saratoga Springs New York last summer and the merchandise was meager.

    Also, book stores such as Barnes and Noble carry OLD, OLD ballet DVDs. YouTube has been the salvation of video footage. I love Anaheim Ballets YouTube videos. I love ilyaballet’s YouTube Channel the best because he posts actually Russian ballet class footage.

  • March 31, 2010

    Twitter and Ballet

    [...] been over 6 months since we wrote a post about how social media had the potential to “turn the ballet microcosm into an universe”, to make it expand beyond its captive audience and hopefully reach out to those who still believe [...]

  • [...] we have more ballet companies embracing social media? We have great fun browsing SFB’s blog, ABT’s pictures and looking at NYCB, Mariinsky [...]

  • September 21, 2009

    Dancing Days « The Ballet Bag

    [...] 2008/2009 – Ballet companies boost investment in social media. The  Mariinsky launches an all English language multi platform initiative, NYCB joins Twitter, ABT has over 24,000 Facebook fans and the Royal Opera House produces the Twitter Opera. Virtually There, July 2009 [link] [...]

  • August 2, 2009


    In a sense, you are asking whether we are (or can be) “Virtually There?”, and the answer might be “Not yet but we have to start somewhere…”.

    While the “virtuality” will never replace the real thing; it is a wonderful complement and increasingly expected by the tech savvy and discerning audiences. Digital technology provides expanding, complex and infinite sources of content, but as you have no doubt discovered, it can be a full time job to find, assess and relay those individual pieces of content, and even then it can be hit and miss.

    In the digital field with everything so new and fast moving, everyone is in the same boat: experimenting. RB’s Cuba tour is a good example, as their digital footprint (not least Tweet frequency!) increased exponentially during their week in Cuba, their web presence was complemented by individuals / audiences worldwide themselves throwing into the digital landfill various fragments of touring moments.

    The net means that gone are the days where local companies such as Paris or Scala can rely only on physical visits to their treasured buildings and with their national dancers performing for those who actually make the patriotic visit. The world also demands global, modern and innovative virtual presence.

    We look forward to the companies and their new media consultants raising the bar, to help the increasingly tech savvy audiences be there virtually.

  • July 23, 2009


    Great tip Alice, we’re soon off to PB’s website and YT to check them out!

  • July 23, 2009


    Your post is right “en pointe” (LOL) but is missing Pennsylvania Ballet. They launched a youtube channel in January that has some of the best behind the scenes videos around. They have recently upgraded their twitter site and have launched a new facebook fan page as well. This company is often overlooked, but should not be ignored. Roy Kaiser has created one of the best companies in the US. It is coming out of the shadows and is the one to watch!

  • July 23, 2009


    Hi Tonya,

    Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed the post!

    The ROH did (free) video streaming of its Don Giovanni last autumn but I don’t think they have repeated it since, it was a great idea and I really wish others would follow suit. I for one would not mind paying to watch content streamed live, maybe a yearly subscription fee like Spotify – the streaming audio service – does over here.

    La Scala is doing more of less the same as the Met & the ROH (by the way I think ROH is the only one to screen both ballet and opera?) in terms of cinema screenings, they film selected operas every season and distribute across Europe (perhaps the US too?). I remember reading an article a while back comparing their efforts & putting POB pretty much on the spot because for a company of its standing they should be seriously thinking about cinema broadcasts… but sadly they only do DVDs for now.

  • July 22, 2009


    Excellent post, Emilia! I also think live streaming performances on the internet is a great way for dance to gain new audiences, and unite dance lovers around the world. Do you guys have that there at all: live streaming? I remember Kristin Sloan did a post on the Winger a while back about how the Berlin Philharmonic was doing such a thing (they charged for viewing online, so it’s not like the dance companies are going to lose money off of it). A small modern company here, Misnomer, live streamed a performance at the Joyce Soho, a small venue, and there were some kinks, but overall it was a lot of fun to watch with others online. You can comment back and forth if you host the live-stream or comment on the company’s website. It’s a lot of fun. But so far, no large dance company here has done such a thing.

    Also, the Met opera here is live broadcasting performances in movie theaters around the city. I would love for ABT or NYCB to do the same. That’s only going to be available to local audiences rather than all over the world, but it would still enable them to reach beyond those who can afford to see the performance live. Plus, for many it’s just more comfortable viewing in a movie theater.

    Also, what did you mean by La Scala’s being into cinema? I’m curious. Do you mean Paris Opera does DVDs but La Scala actually makes movies of its performances that are viewed in movie theaters?