At Digital Dance Project, we believe that innovation is critical to the evolution of Western concert dance. As an art form, concert dance–any dance performed for an audience, including ballet, modern dance, and musical theatre–has always been on the move. Each generation of artists brings their own sensibilities and innovations to their discipline, and our generation will be no different. Although the sudden effects of COVID19 served as an inspiration for integrating technology into dance presentations, DDP was founded on the principle that dance is ripe for innovation.
To thrive, art must continue to innovate.
The history of dance shows many twists and turns to its evolution. Classical ballet, the Western dance form with the longest history, serves as an interesting example. In Jennifer Homans’ (2010) ballet history book, Apollo’s Angels, she traces the development of ballet from the courts of France, through its maturation into Russian imperialism, and all the way to its splashy arrival as a distinctly American tradition. The book’s final chapter, “The Masters Are Dead and Gone,” drew controversy when the book was published because she argued that after all these years of innovation the art form had entered a “retrospective” phase of “stifling orthodoxy.” Although many of us disagree with her conclusion that ballet’s glory is behind it, I agree with her that we must incorporate outside approaches to keep the art form moving forward. For us, utilizing technology is one way to do that.
Dance as we know it is expensive.
Of course, it is easy to understand why so many directors restage the safe, steady classics of dance when you think about the precarious financial positions of even our most beloved companies. Companies both big and small are often characterized by high operating costs that leave little room in the budget for taking chances. Unfortunately, that is inherent to our current business model: renting a space large enough for dance as we know it has always been a necessity, and running academy classes in the evening can only go so far to defray company expenses. Adding costly theater rentals for performance weekends only exacerbates this difficulty.
An innovative business model can take dance to new places.
Losing a physical space can provide an innovative answer for some organizations. In a recent Dance Magazine article by Jennifer Stahl (May 2020), Jane Weiner describes what happened six years ago when she had to close the physical presence of her company Hope Stone Dance and its connected school. She returned to a project-based model for the company while continuing to build its community outreach program in local schools, lowering her operating costs by 85%. Stahl reports:
“[a]s Weiner regrouped, she began to realize that without the expenses of a physical space, the business was able to focus on its mission: Making a real impact in the community through dance.”
Missions like Weiner’s are at the heart of every dance organization. For many companies, having physical studio space is also integral to their mission. These spaces serve to build community for the performers, students, and other invested members of the community. Fortunately, they are not going to go away post-COVID. The opportunity exists, however, for other companies to harness the same nimbleness as Hope Stone Dance. Lowering the operating costs that have traditionally made dance so unsustainable would mean that innovative organizations can explore new settings and reach new audience members. At Digital Dance Project, we believe that creating an online rehearsal and performance space can provide us with these opportunities and more.
Dance is ready for a change.
As we consider the potential benefits of innovation, it’s worth remembering that other performing arts have already made that jump. Live drama stretches back to Ancient Greece and even earlier, but the advent of radio provided a new outlet for actors and playwrights. Drama successfully made the jump to radio, then again to film and television while live theater still persists. Although dance has been a part of countless films, concert dance itself has made no major technological leap other than the recording of live performances. Isn’t it time that we change that? Join us on Facebook and Instagram to be part of the conversation.