The transition into the fall season is mirrored by a recent transition in ballet. As the weather changes and casting goes up, recent events make it evident that ballet is on the cusp of a change all its own.
In the past several weeks alone, there have been several pivotal moments that further stretch a classical art form into the modern world. In my view, New York City Ballet was responsible for at least two of them: The first, "New Beginnings," was a "testament to the human spirit," a performance of Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain, filmed at sunrise as a tribute to the devastation that shocked the city, and the world, on 9/11/2001. The short film, poignantly stirring, scrolled across newsfeeds, shared by dancers and non-dancers alike, everyone equally haunted and exposed by the demonstration of raw emotion -- essentially moving poetry, that people of all different backgrounds seemed to understand. The second was NYCB's Fall Gala (which also marked 50 Cent's first time at the ballet). This event, where the likes of Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Doutzen Kroes strolled the red carpet alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov, was covered by W magazine and Vogue, among other publications.
Ballet didn't stop there: As Breaking Pointe, the docu-drama following Ballet West, wrapped its second season on The CW Network, ballet lovers and reality-TV aficionados began campaigning for a third season. Within the show viewers watched the dissolution of a marriage and triumph of independence (between principal artists Christiana Bennett and Christopher Ruud), the competition between two dancers fighting for a single spot (Sarasota Ballet's Ian Tanzer and current Ballet West corps member Zachary Prentice), the struggle to find motivation (soloist Beckanne Sisk) and the rise of an unlikely heroine (Allison DeBona). All of this was framed within the context of staging Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella. Though the show has proved controversial it, much like the knowledge that 50 Cent is now a ballet-goer, got people engaged and talking.
American Ballet Theatre took engagement to a whole new level with the announcement of Project Plié, a nation-wide program with the intent of bringing more diversity to ballet. Part of the initiative includes ABT partnering with regional companies, including Ballet San Jose, Oklahoma City Ballet and Ballet Austin, as well as Boys and Girls Clubs across the nation. Though the eventual goal is produce professional dancers of different races, this program is as much about future audience members as it is about future dancers. Arts education is something the country needs to pay more attention to and ABT is acting as fabulous catalyst for that movement. With Misty Copeland as the face of the program, success is imminent.
Speaking of Misty Copeland, ABT's soloist who has toured with Prince and been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and Forbes, it seems she's ready to launch ballet into the mainstream in entirely new ways. The title of Copeland's memoir (Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina) was announced, and the book is set to hit shelves in March 2014. Copeland was also the subject of another launch, this time, a Kickstarter Campaign for a documentary following her history and career. Directed and produced by Nelson George, the film (titled A Ballerina's Tale) will feature Copeland's narration. Dance lovers craving the literary also have the sensational Michaela DePrince's memoir to look forward to in Fall 2014. DePrince, now with Het Nationale Ballet, is also rumored to be releasing a nonfiction book aimed at children shortly after.
Of course, these are just the highlights. Companies and dancers around the world are growing more innovative in the pursuit of a connection with their audience. In a time when most people would rather text and twerk than see a live classical performance, what does all this mean for ballet? Is it possible for ballet to "have it all" -- to preserve its refined and classical nature while transitioning into a modern view, even when that view often conflicts with the mystique upon which ballet was crafted?
I think the answer is yes. Why? The dancers. The dancers, who manage to be otherworldly onstage and downright human in "real life" are swiftly closing the gap between ballet and audiences. By becoming their own best paparazzi, today's dancers are quite literally taking ballet somewhere it has never been before. After all, who doesn't like keeping up with their favorite performers via Instagram and Twitter? This, coupled with a fresh resolve to provide artistic exposure to ballet's youngest patrons-students-is the dawn of a new age.
So how will it continue? Well keep following, clicking like and tuning in. But take it a step further. Buy a ticket. See a performance. Better yet-see more than one performance, by more than one company. Take your favorite niece or grandson or that kid you babysit to the ballet. Donate when you can. Encourage kids to take a ballet class just as we encourage them to get good grades and try out for sports teams. Share the interviews, read the stories, fill the seats. Remember that the arts, ballet included, have the power to change lives. Allow ballet to change. Allow it to change your life.
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