Bringing contemporary ballet to new audiences
BalletX, a contemporary ballet company known for commissioning and performing new work, focused almost exclusively on live performance before the pandemic. When the company realized in early summer 2020 that live performances would be postponed for some time, its staff began working to find something else to keep both the company and its ten dancers afloat.
Through the summer of 2020, BalletX staff researched possible digital platforms to show their work. They looked outside of dance companies, to larger platforms like Hulu and HBO, for successful models that seemed easy to use. The company felt the need to continue creating work for others to enjoy. “We have to do something, so we’re going to do this,” was the feeling at the time, according to Megan O’Donnell, associate director of operations. The staff debated possible pricing structures, names, and branding. Ultimately, the streaming service debuted as BalletX Beyond. Because the company previously had patrons subscribe to its entire season, the new service also has a subscription model, which currently places all work behind a paywall beginning at $15/month. Existing subscribers could renew even while live performances were paused.
The company has not cut off its openness to experimentation. It continues to evaluate the success of BalletX Beyond and to ask whether its approach to digital strategy is benefiting the organization. It has also changed its view of the audience for this work. Originally, BalletX pursued its existing audience, but now it seeks new people who cannot attend in person but might still appreciate the new work it premieres. Its audience has grown during the pandemic, despite some fluctuations in audience appetite to watch filmed dance.
Live performance has an “indelible quality,” O’Donnell says, and the company would never consider deprioritizing its live performances in the long term. But at the same time, the company wants to explore how dance can be portrayed in ways that are new and exciting, that coexist with the film medium rather than being live-streamed facsimiles. The company hopes to bring in filmmakers who will have their own view of their craft, collaborating with a choreographer in the same way a composer might. It has started this process with its Incubator program to create five-minute mini-works, which can be seen both live and digitally. The company hopes that, despite occasional digital overload, audiences will find these works waiting “when they’re ready to come back.”