On the Novosibirsk Theatre Affair

I have a long-term acquaintance in Novosibirsk. Many of our point of views are different, sometimes opposite, despite our friendship. Since I’m all for a free debate, I agreed in publishing here this friend’s opinion on what is happening in NOVAT, or Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. It has a new management, lead by Vladimir Kekhman, a former business man with a passion for art. The new direction renovated the building, made changes in repertoire, brought great artists as guests, encouraged social groups like young people, renters, students and so on to fill the theatre with extra low prices. 

The text does not (NOT!) feature my own ideas, I just translated the best I could.

What happens in the “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” offends me! Our beautiful legacy must be cherished and carefully kept. Historical legacy must ALWAYS be kept, this should be a guiding principle in any Culture policy.

I really wish old theaters would go back to to candle lights, and to grass covered floors… to female roles being played by young men in wigs! Comfort for the audience is a small price to pay, when you have design and performances preserved forever as they were in the beginning!

I wish audiences to chat and eat while they watch the show, and freely enter and leave the room. I want them to use again porcellain chamber-pots, instead of modern toilets, to preserve the original mood!

It is true  “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” is not that old, but you must agree that the former toilets were hardly more comfortable than chamber-pots, and should not be replaced by incongruous, hardly fitting novelties.

If you care about preservation, magic may not flow from stage so easily, and great performers may not be as appreciated as they are in other theaters and countries… but this is a trifle, compared with the magnificent feat of preserving architecture  in all its original glory!  People would be proud of a whole evening sacrifice of their comfort for the sake of High Art!

Artists come and go… great performances may be lost or not appreciated, or even impossible to enjoy because of discomfort, aching backs, bad acoustics, seats without stage perspective – none of this matters, compared to preserving  “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” in its original amazing beauty and architectural uniqueness and glory.

The company members whose time and effort are dedicated to us must understand that their living Art is far less important than the Engineering Art made ethernal in cement, and not be despondent because I refuse to see them in more comfortable surroundings!

And the prices!!! I was proud that we never had to pay as much as in other cities to see the “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” artists – and refuse to be treated with less respect now!

Maybe artists of other houses in other cities are better, and deserve what is paid to see them. I doubt it – our company is VERY good!  But our company did not get suddenly better than it was – so why should I pay more to see a level of artistry that was available for a lesser price?

I heard that our artists are sad and disappointed, because we don’t want to see them in the new circumstances. As they are citizens of Novosibirsk too, they should be happy to perform to an empty house – empty of proud theatre goers that do not give in to senseless changes!

And guests artists, they may be great, even the greatest, but they must be aware that, if they accept to perform in the current bad taste decoration of “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”, they cannot expect US to accept their Art as a good enough compensation.

More! they surely are not surprised with our lack of interest  in their Art, when they know we don’t accept Vladimir Kekhman, the criminal that hired them!!! Lax, rotten capitalist West may not see his personal bankrupcy as a crime, but we know better, nobody fools us about capitalism logic and and international law!!

May this be a lesson to tyrannical authorities! If changes were wanted in “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”, all citizens had to be called in to give their opinions – and in a democratic way, colours, materials, interior design, lightning, furniture – all decisions about comfort, upholstery, acoustics, toilets, etc, and also about repertoire, casting, costumes, settings and choreography, had to be made with agreement of all citizens, and in a way that EVERY single one of them could agree!

Instead of wasting money in “modernizing”  the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre  infrastructure, we should be staging OUR own performances, even if it means having just a handful of them.

The simple notion of renting the staging of another theatre is demeaning, and just the possibility that the sweat of “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”‘s troupe may have contact with sweat lingering in Mikhailovsky’s rented costumes is simply disgusting!!

Don’t tell ME that renting a staging is less expensive, I am not naive! Provided the production is completely OURS, a rare premiere is far better than having a whole selection of performances –  since the quantiy is OBVIOUSLY meant to enrich Mikhailovsky and Kekhman at our expenses, I can find no other logical reason! What is the point of so many productions, anyway? I don’t need more than one selfie in the lobby every season, I wouldn’t want to bore my followers in Instagram!

Finally: do you really expect me to remember one more ill-sounding bunch of letters every time I want to mention our beloved “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre“? I refuse to use NOVAT instead – what a lack of respect for its grand, good sounding name.
Let other theatres use abbreviations… it’s their problem, they will have to face the inevitable, sad consequences of this kind of misguided modernization.

As with the unbelievable new site – provided there should be one at all! The traditional site of  “State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” was replaced by a new one following standards used by several other theatres in Russia – its former originality traded for what amounts to just more information and ease of use in a so called “modern” look.

Images speak for themselves: the disgusting outcome of restoration in “NOVAT”

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Quote of The Day – Paul Lightfoot

Tatyana Kuznetsova, respected Russian dance critic, asks: Why in such a small country like Holland, are there so many talented choreographers from different generations?

Lightfoot: Because in the Netherlands there was no ballet tradition. Clear field. The Dutch set up the first company  55 years ago – just decided it was time to get hold of their own ballet. getimageAnd yet – they are very tolerant, open to any culture, it is a historical feature. When the Dutch colonialists plied the oceans in their ships, they did not destroy them in new countries, they absorbed everything, studying around. Unlike English, which was perceived as hostile to any foreign culture. Therefore, in the Netherlands, with such a mentality, it was very easy to create an international ballet company.
And of course, there is good financial support from the state. Maybe not the same as in Russia, but still two-thirds of the money our NDT receives from the country and the city of The Hague. The Dutch sometimes ask: “Why do you call the company “Dutch”, if you have only three or four Dutch members?” And I say: “Look, it is international, but it also is Dutch, in that you know how to respect and use the culture of other nations.” For me, a foreigner, this is a great place to live.

Paul Lightfoot, choreographer, since 2011  Artistic Director of the Ballet company of NDT – Netherlands Dans Theatre. Interview in March 2016, when Paul Lightfoot and Sol de León were staging one of their works in Bolshoi.

Link to interview

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The outcome is a logical, direct consequence of the Culture policies in Netherlands, as much as its society  attitude regarding Art.
The countries where Concert Dance was traditionally stronger face nowadays a chronic shortage of really great choreographic work: England, Italy, France, Russia.  On the other hand, innovation is a constant in Netherlands, Scotland, Monaco, Germany…

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Ms. Tatyana Kuznetsova says herself: Unfortunately or fortunately, our country is unlikely to repeat the fate of France: “Contemporary dance in Russia will not become popular. In France, two things coincided: first, the revolution of flowers in the ’60s, when the whole of society updated, requiring a different aesthetic and ethical life, and second, the active support of the state. To modern dance to became widespread in Russia, we need the demands of upper and lower classes to be completely different.”

Link to interview

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Considering that Concert Dance is nowhere as loved as in Russia… sad! 

The outcome THERE is, they have a shortage of choreographers not only in contemporary, but in classical and neoclassical too. Choreographers and Artistic Directores who try anything new, from choreography to scenery, face so strong an opposition that they usually give up after no more than 2 or 3 years.

You must be really hard-skinned to introduce change, as the tale of Vladimir Kekhman shows. He was able to turn Mikhailovsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg into a thriving company, but innovation process  was far less dynamic than he wanted.  When he tried to do the same for Novosibirsk (Siberia), however, opposition was nothing less than furious. 

In consequence, Russian companies, more often than not  “import” works and choreographers when they decide to stage more up-to-date works – knowing they will meet supercilious disgust of a good part of the Dance community, and the complaints of dancers unused to move outside the classical standards.

Again… how sad that such a huge infrastructure, so much skilled professionals and a loving public are used just to perpetuate the past.

 

 

Emploi and double-standards

How can you explain that dancers that don’t fit certain visual standards are considered unsuited for Ballets where Form is privileged,  while dancers without any acting skill are considered suitable for ballets where Content is more important?

Has Ballet definitely given up on being a performance Art?

Is any flawed performance accepted, as long as physical standards are obeyed?

Absurdity… you see performances that, if not for the costume, could be of any ballet! Solor undistinguishable from Ali, Desire identical to Franz, Colas plus a guitar becoming Basilio… Aurora with feathers in Swan Lake, clad in red in Don Quixote…

Even this, however, is not so bad as having Giselle identical to Juliet and Margherite… or Franz as unpleasant as Prinz Rudolph!

Oh, come on, spare me!!!

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Uffff – too many issues!

I’m having trouble feeding my blog, because I have so many issues dancing (!) around on my head… I’m writing about all of them at the same time, and nothing is ever ready to post! I’m so confused I posted  THIS before it was ready, sorry!

mess of letters

Issue #1: the recent episode of  Bolshoi x Stanislasvski conflict involving Ivan Vasiliev brought back memories of several similar conflicts, involving both him and other dance professionals, that often guest around the world. It made me reflect on the current ability of ballet companies to effectively cope with the changes in their reality: the increasing numbers of independent great stars; the cost/benefit of their productions; customer satisfaction; visible aging of their audience in live performances; globalization of information; the new ways (mostly digital and far from ideal, but THERE, their importance increasing as we speak) to access ballet/dance productions; the inadequate competitive attitude in a risk situation. I wonder if their funding agencies impose restrictions to effective management? It seems (lack of information!) they have, most of them, professional managers, so why are they so slow to adapt? Does that sound too businesslike? Well, it should!!! Dance companies, as every enterprise and institution nowadays, CANNOT ignore good business practices! Ignore them, nowadays, is to be doomed!

Issue #2: important dance professionals in UK complained about UK dancer’s training – they say contemporary dance schools do not prepare them well enough. On it’s wake, I became aware of information on UK’s Dance audience’s, agencies and training (I did not know where to find that, before). There is a LOT to think and ponder about here, and I follow the debate, and write to clear my ideas, and re-think, and get new information, and re-write… It has been highly interesting, but I’m still processing all these new data!

Issue #3: the general Prodigal Son Parable feeling about Ivan Vasiliev’s “return” to Bolshoi, and its consequences – there are very nice, really exciting consequences, and also, I foresee, some that may not be that nice. As always, Ivan Vasiliev has my interest as himself, but also as an emblematic dancer who raises issues that go far beyond him. There is a difficult, tense, even painful trade-off between an artist’s right and need of independency, and the means to realize his artistry – in Performance Arts even more than other kinds of Art. When I see dancers and choreographers potential unfulfilled, I long for them to find a “home” to fully realize them, but… which of the dance agencies available nowadays is willing to let them realize their potential to it’s full extent? Not a new question, and I don’t have an answer! I keep a keen eye on all agencies I can… there seems to be a great polarization: those “homes” that can afford to stage properly the greater ones, are the less bound to favour their individuality, and vice-versa! Either way, the artist looses, and WE loose!… that’s why I cannot but worry and wonder about solutions! This issue, obvioulsy, is related, but not the same, as Issue#1.

Issue #4: what is Dance about, nowadays? A recent interview of my amazing Natalia Osipova brought me once again to this issue. She is SO accomplished, I cannot imagine a more beautiful 2nd Act Giselle as hers, OR a more fiery Kitri, and the improbable possibility of a dancer to excel the way she excels in BOTH prooves her greatness! She is, however, haunted by doubts about herself, and seeks harder and harder for perfection, but to such an extent! it broke my heart…! Problem is, to be perfect does not mean, necessarily, to create magic, and she, sensitive as she is, KNOWS that, and fears that. Is perfection important to create an objet d’art? If at all, in what ways, and what KIND of perfection? When I reflect about this, I always feel Terpsichore – “the joy in dancing” – looking, very interested, over my shoulder…

Issue #5: I have a post to finish about overuse of strange – and ugly – movements and costumes in contemporary dance (that I love). I’m reticent about them, and try to explain why  – just a humble, but as so often here, radical personal opinion. It involves body-language, the symbolic universe of a culture, and relates the way we see and interpret movements with words, smells and music – for now. I wouldn’t dare to question their artistic value or the creator’s need of them, but I can give a feed-back on how I receive/perceive them!

… and new issues keep arising!

It strikes me as little odd that in “other lives I lived”, in business, science, human science – and for all I can see but lived not, in other kinds of Art and every other organized human activity, issues like that are deeply important and openly and fiercely discussed… but I find so little open discussion and open opinions in Dance! I want to stand up and cry BRAVO everytime I see someone dismiss platitudes and state unconformity in a loud voice! … in good time, all these voices will grace this pages! But they are few, too few…

A writer describes Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire

After the bleak post on Royal Ballet, an uplifting one!

Some time ago I was giving some (just common-sense) thought to the differences between Theatre and Dance, so I was deeply interested when I found today this comment made by Aidan Ryan, a blogger who describes himself as “writer, traveller, duellist and scapegrace”. Aidan went to a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire (I already mentioned Scottish Ballet’s version when I quoted Tennessee Williams). The last ballet he had seen, as far as he could remember, was a Nutcracker some 15 years before – so we can firmly place him as non-expert, “wider” audience.

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Aidan is a writer, and as you would expect, he missed the words!, since Tennessee William’s writing is not just any writing, it is the work of a master – and he was sure everyone else was missing them too.

BUT…

… the title of his post is “A Triumph on Calculated Loss.” Quoting:

 “Even audiences just as accustomed to dance as to drama found themselves aching for a human voice through most this production, but this feeling was only a footnote to our encompassing awe at director Nancy Meckler’s and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s gamble, really a calculated loss, to sacrifice the author’s words to more freely interpret his spirit.“

“If the Scottish Ballet proved anything this past week, it was that the form lends itself brilliantly to this sort of drama.  Blanche (played by principal dancer Eve Musto) here becomes a multiplicity: she is not one dancer onstage but a whole company – ghosts, half-ghosts, a score of black-dressed dancers with roses for mouths – and we watch as she calls on other bodies, parts of herself, to manifest the internal reality she battles, always under the 28 bare bulbs that hang above the stage. “

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“Sometimes watching drama adapted into dance is like watching a couple fight through the window looking into their apartment.  The show is mute, we feel our distance more acutely and inescapably than in traditional drama – but we cannot look away.

Other times – many times, during Streetcar – the choreography is so natural, so expressive hate and frailty and wild unstill spectrums of sexuality that we think it must have been improvised, the dancers possessed in some enthusiasmos and ecstasis, channeling the old gods’ emotions which human feeling is based upon.”

“The brute Stanley and the battered Blanche shed the layers of complexity that made Tennessee Williams’ one of the twentieth century’s greatest playwrights – though having done so, I suppose, they danced more freely, emoted more purely and therefore on a grander scale.”

“Meckler and Ochoa turned away from the nuance of naturalist theatre and reached instead for the power of archetypal feeling, operatic emotion.  And they succeeded.  This was never more evident than in the ballet’s climax, which took the implied rape in Williams’ script and made it brilliantly, brutally explicit, in choreography that left eyelids inoperable and mouths agape.  (“Nothing like a little bit of rape on a Saturday afternoon,” the Scottish woman beside me said to her friend after the final curtain had fallen.  It was a comment still half-nervous, possible only after the calming interlude of clapping.  We were all still in awe.) Peter Salem’s score was so powerful here that it seemed to become a physical part of the set, with a sound like pulsing pain or a beating cut vein amplified in the cavern of the head.”

[[ Link to complete post ]] and

[[ Link to trailer ]]

I was lucky to find Ryan’s description.  It is a spontaneous, real example of this blog’s most important point:  Dance can reach, can enrapt, can create magic for anyone, no need to be an “initiate” – provided it has Form and Content, provided it is able to suspend disbelief, provided it reaches decisively into what makes us human.

Dance is not better, worse or even complementary to Theatre – it is different! Like Music, it can bring you another kind of experience, grounded on more deep-seated, atavic roots. If things are made the right way, the kind of experience you cannot forget. If “things” are not just technique and form.

…two hours of passionate dance still playing in afterimages behind our eyes…

BRAVO, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Nancy Meckler, Scottish Ballet!

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… and one more live performance on my wish list (sigh)!

Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake and Mixed Feelings

Natalia Osipova/Matthew Golding/Gary Avis in Royal Ballet's Swan Lake, 4th Act
Natalia Osipova/Matthew Golding/Gary Avis in Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake, 4th Act

I had mixed feelings reading Jim Pritchard’s review of Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake on 17.03.2015, Natalia Osipova, Matthew Golding and Gary Avis in the leading roles.

[[  LINK TO COMPLETE REVIEW ]]

I could insert quotes, but his review is worth reading. He is, of course, just one voice in the Tower of Babel of opinions – you may trust it or not – as you may agree with me or not, but most reviewers remembered they do not like this production’s scenario and/or costumes and/or the “butchered score” and/or mime. More than one mentioned ENB’s production, and Ivan Vasiliev’s Siegfried in comparison…

It could be a good feeling, to know that other ballet-lovers see what I see – only I wish we were wrong, because such waste of talent, in such costly productions, makes me sad. And angry.

All aspects Pritchard mentions are in tune with posts in this blog: the garish, cluttered scenarios (see Swan Lake turned into Theatre); the fact that Siegfried has no opportunity to dance (see Graceful Dancers Part 2); Natalia Osipova, despite outstanding technique and careful acting, being unable to create “magic” (see Graceful Dancers Part 1, and About Kings, Battles and Muses...); about Matthew Golding’s bad acting, resulting in a pale performance compared with Ivan Vasiliev’s Siegfried (see Ivan Vasiliev Acted Socks Off); the damping down of individuality by excessive coaching, in a misguided effort to keep Dame Fonteyn’s style alive forever (see I will write a lot about Ivan Vasiliev); the fact that men who are not dancers run away from ballet performances  – what kind of “art” is this, that pleases mostly women and old people, having no interest for others? (see Dance, know thy Audience).

He does not mention, however, the dreadful, excessive mime, but I will! Last act is available on the web, you can judge for yourself.

[[ LINK TO ROYAL BALLET’S SWAN LAKE, Last Act).

4th Act has such an overload of mime it turns real acting into an impossibility! Osipova dutifully uses all prescribed (exaggerated) facial expressions and movements, but they are a poor substitute for the real thing.  I wish she would rebel… She stated, during rehearsals, that she was “still looking for his (Matthew Golding’s) soul”, indeed! How would she find it, if she did not allow her own soul to be there?

Ill-guided, misused, under-used, all these fabulous artistic and financial resources. How much longer will audience be forced to look for (empty) movements -“athletic delivering”, “beautiful lines” and “whipping 32 fouettés” – as the best you can get out of a performance?

I may be right, but there is no self-satisfaction in the notion – I would much prefer they had proved me wrong.

DANCE – KNOW THY AUDIENCE!

For some time now I have been wondering, and making comments, on the audience of Dance. I believe that the performance of ballet professionals and the big companies’ stagings were more foccused on pleasing dance experts and the conservative part of the audience, neglecting a wider one that could and would enjoy Dance, and ballet, it just some changes were made…This was more a feeling that a certainty, and of course I could be wrong.

But I have found a survey about audience made in 2010, in USA, comissioned by Dance/Usa , a national service  organization for the professional dance field, within the scope of one of their initiatives: EDA – Engaging Dance Audiences. The survey was made by WolfBrown, a specialized agency that provides ” qualitative and quantitative market research services to a wide range of cultural organizations.” In total, 7,454 dance patrons completed the survey.

*****6 out of 10 in the audience are dance professionals or ex-professionals

Now look at that:
“A quarter of all dance buyers take dance lessons or classes at least occasionally, and another 33% used to, earlier in their lives.” That’s 58% of the audience, or 6 out of every 10!”

WolfBrown sorted the audience, however, by another criteria:

– Active or Serious Dancers are people who regularly take dance lessons, perform in front of live audiences or choreograph. They constitute 2 out of every 10 buyers. I suppose this means: they are either active dance professionals or actively training to become professionals.

– Social Dancers are people who dance socially, either regularly or occasionally, but who are not “Active or Serious Dancers.” They constitute 38% ot the audience – this means 4 out of 10, and among these, 3 are ex-dancers.

– Non-Dancers are all those not included above. They constitute just 43% of ticket buyers!

Dance AudienceIn the report, there is this cautious remark beside this graph:

“– In other studies, we have observed the presence of artists in the audience, but not to this extent. The larger point here is one about the inter-dependence of different players in the dance ecology.”

************************************ I want an inspiring, uplifting experience

DanceAudience Motivation

“To experience the kind of magic only Dance can create” is not an item in their list… No wonder, as my clumsy, unprecise concept of “magic” means the kind of experience you have when exposed to Art: an experience that may be anywhere from the most subtle, unconscious to the most overwhelming one, but always touching  deep existential strings. Note that “to have an intense emotional experience” is low on that table, while “to be inspired and upflifted” is at the top. I imagine that respondents, like me, regarded the top one as a life-changing experience, and the  “intense emotional experience” as any kind of “emotional”, including the  predictable, shallow kind that newspapers and trash-talk-shows use “ad nauseam” to increase their sales. So I chose the top one as the closest, in fact as a synonime to my “magic”, and hope I’m not pushing it too far – because “magic” in the top position agrees with all I believe in!

The report states that to Active or Serious Dancers  the most important motives are:  to engage intellectually with the dance or choreography / to energize your own creativity / to see great works by the masters / to discover new choreographers and companies. This is a   pragmatic group, they want to enhance their skill and specific knowledge.

It follows that  “To be inspired and uplifted”  stands  on the top of the list because the Social Dancers and Non-Dancers want it,  it’s THEIR principal reason. If no real “magic”, nothing really special is created,  it will be a disappointing experience to THEM.

The performers on stage know that their peers are a large part of audience (roughly 60%) – with their keen, knowing  eyes hefted on the smallest movement, possibly looking for faults! I wouldn’t be surprised  if the wish to concquer their respect and praise became stronger than anything else….

That’s why I love performers who are more foccused on creating magic than in showing off their excellent technique. Remember: the most important motivation to see any kind of production, to a large part of the CURRENT audience, is the wish “to live an inspiring experience” – it probably is also the motivation that can win more “outsiders” over.

************************************Yes, I’m willing to see an unfamilar work

One last comment, now about constantly re-staging familiar works. Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “I prefer to see familiar works that I know I will like rather than seeing unfamiliar or challenging work.”

And see! roughly 6 out of 10 disagreed! including Non-Dancers! If you take  10  Non-Dancers, then:
1 of them prefers a familiar work (only one!)
3 prefer new works
3 are willing to either kind AND
3 have mixed feelings about this (still hope on them!).

But there is an exception, and an expected one: when it comes to ballet productions, 45% prefer familiar works – the conservative traditional-ballet-loving audience I always talk about!

********************************************************* Young audience?

The survey also tried to find out about technology-based alternatives of watching a performance. All groups prefer live-performances (OF COURSE!, who wouldn’t?), so interest in technology-based viewing is not that big. Anyway, two conclusions stand out for me: the younger the audience, more interested in technology-based possibilities they are, not instead, but ALSO! A clear trend! The only exception is about sites with pay-per-view performances – these interest all ages and groups almost the same way.

(Don’t forget we are talking about audience with access to live-performances! What to say, then, about audience that has access to Dance ONLY through technology? Nobody remembers they exist, a “potential, still unexplored market”, in business wording…)

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These results must be viewed cautiously, of course. WolfBrown analyzed north-american audiences, in other countries they may have a different behaviour, and great companies like NYCB and ABT did not adhere to the survey.  (If I were bold, I would bet that Non-Dancers are an even smaller part of the audience of the great companies…)  Even so, to me these ARE interesting results, in that they prove that my complaints are not without reason, and in that it is the only effort to analyze Dance Audience that I know of, so far.

Link to report: < www2.danceusa.org/uploads/EDA/EDA_NationalSurvey_Overview.pdf >