Diablo Gives Ballet a Reboot

Ever since the Dance/USA conference I’ve seen Diablo Ballet all over the internet.  This relatively small-scale ballet company out of Walnut Creek, CA would likely be completely unfamiliar to me if not for its inspirational quotes on Twitter, dance history tidbits on Pinterest, and Audience prompts on Facebook.  In talking with Dan Meagher, Director of Marketing at Diablo Ballet and, consequently, the man behind all their tweets,  he explained to me the reasons behind their big social media initiatives:

[Social Media] helps make ballet accessible to those who have never been exposed to dance.  Our social media presence has definitely been seen in our box office… it has helped the classical arts reach non-traditional audiences.  People are surprised and ask, “Why is a ballet company tweeting?”  I love that!  One of my marketing initiatives is to take the “classical” out of the classical arts. That word builds a wall between potential audiences who view ballet, opera, symphonies, and such as “high brow” entertainment.

After all the arduous discussion about ballet on the internet – It’s dead.  It’s alive.  It’s changing.  It will never entirely change – I was excited to hear about this new take on the oldest of Western dance forms.  Diablo has even started to play with the audience experience by permitting – nay, encouraging – the audience to tweet during performances.  Typically this sort of behavior is reserved for the small Emo-Modern Companies of the world and pooh-poohed by ballet’s aristocracy, but Dan insists that they never saw any objections… after, that is.  Initially, there was a huge push-back from the traditional ballet audience, but in practice they hardly noticed and certainly didn’t complain.

This stance brings up a point I have with classical arts and their resistance to let social media in.  Many classical arts organizations don’t want to use it because it seems “beneath them.”  They fail to understand that their future audience (and a good chunk of their current) are on social media. Why would you not want to reach out?

WebBallet 1

This Spring, Diablo is taking its social media endeavors one step further, and actually letting the interwebs decide the fate of their next major project.  I don’t ordinarily let the interviewees do so much of the talking, because, you know, my ego gets in the way, but I think Dan does a great job describing where the idea came about:

After the Twitter night, I thought about other ways to engage folks on social media. Since dance is a collaborative process, it dawned on me that we could harness the world wide power of technology and get people to help us create a new dance work.

I developed the idea last March and, when I approached [Artistic Director] Lauren Jonas, she immediately loved it and we began talks.  I think it’s a fabulous way to make dance accessible and let people have a hand in the creation process. So far, we’ve received suggestions from all over the world: everything from steps like petit allegro but inverted or sideways, to making a Mary Poppins ballet! I love it!

Here’s the good news… there’s still time to get in on The Web Ballet and help this “Choose Your Own Adventure” of dance.  Until February 14, give your suggestions to @DiabloBallet using the Twitter hash tag #DiabloWebBallet.  From the mood of the piece to the emotions of the dancers, down to every pirouette performed, Diablo will select seven ideas and the suggestions to create a brand new ballet.  the product premieres this March in their home town of Walnut Creek, CA.

What I want to know is… can I Skype into a performance?!?

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.

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