Drama is the life's blood of every reality television show. But "drama," the term once personified by smiling and frowning theatrical masks to illustrate the literary concepts of comedy versus tragedy, is now shorthand for vicious emotional upheaval.
Reality TV viewers have come to consider drama as the bad-bro' or mean-girl dialogue looped into repetitious sound bites. It's as if TV producers believe we might miss the insult, if we didn't hear catty soundbites repeated four or five times in an hour episode.
So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that when the annual Dance Critics Association conference convened in New York City last week, the event's most lively discussion erupted over the drama on "Breaking Pointe." That's the BBC Worldwide Productions reality show which airs on the CW network and features Ballet West. At a conference panel about dance on television, all eyes were fixed on Adam Sklute, the company's artistic director.
The refined world of classical ballet has been known to shoot itself in the bunion when it comes to marketing, so it was exciting and shocking to hear Sklute explain why he was willing to risk his company's reputation at the hands of TV producers. The show "was no different in my mind than producing a brand new ballet, and that's always a risk," Sklute said. And if the show increases live-performance attendance, "why not use this format?" The statement prompted respected dance critic Robert Johnson of the New Jersey Star-Ledger to break into applause.
At that point, it was obvious that Sklute had provided the drama of the panel, and Ballet West had stolen the show.
Dance magazine's editor-in-chief Wendy Perron tweeted and blogged about his comments. Another panel member, Kate Lydon, editor-in-chief of Dance Spirit magazine, seemed eclipsed by the attention, even as she described her magazine's use of webisodes.
Marc Kirschner, founder and general manager of the multi-platform dance network TenduTV, was interested in the digital licensing aspect of "Breaking Pointe," which has attracted nearly 1 million viewers for its most recent episode, which is on par with other CW shows. A regular-season show with name-brand appeal, such as "Gossip Girl," averages just 1.8 million viewers per episode.
While the overall viewing numbers for the show aren't high in the big picture, Sklute says, the show is considered to be pulling respectable numbers for the CW network. "Relatively speaking, we are doing rather well by them," he says.
Back in the day, "Dancing with the Stars" pulled in 27 million viewers, but its numbers have been dropping over the past few seasons. Last year, the show averaged 18 million for the performance show and 16 million for the results show this past season.
The older-generation of organizers for the conference were excited over their first Skype feed, while the younger, new-media attendees gracefully resisted jumping in to fix the connection when it repeatedly failed.
Fortunately, an earlier panel discussion moderated by blogger and dance artist Alyssa Schoeneman addressed dance in the digital age.
For us, the take-away message was that staying relevant in the dance world means keeping up with the times. Audience members who traditionally have been willing to sit in a theater for hours don't necessarily have the same patience or expectation in front of a screen.
Interactive platforms like i-Phone apps and web content, which can be accessed on the go, is the 800 number of today. Cross promotions such as watching "Gossip Girl" or "America's Next Top Model" on cwtv.com and seeing pop up ads for "Breaking Pointe" is all about search engine optimization.
"We already are doing many cross promotions through our website," Sklute said, "as well as individual dancer twitters and personal subscription commercials on the local airing of the show."
Sklute is banking on the reality show format, hoping it will spark interest in classical ballet and galvanize dancer-viewer relationships. In those ways, he hopes to hit the sweet spot that all arts promoters talk about: getting more butts in theater seats.
From the buzz at the annual dance writers convention, he's already proved that point.
Chat with a dancer
Want to talk with a dancer who might be an emerging reality TV star? Here's your chance. Ballet West is charging $25 to enter a drawing for a 30-minute video chat with a cast member of "Breaking Pointe."
When • The drawing will take place Monday, July 9. Proceeds from the drawing are considered direct donations to Ballet West (except for the winner's donation, which is not eligible for a tax break).
Questions • Contact Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-869-6918.
TV • The season-capping episode of "Breaking Pointe" airs Thursday, July 5 at 7 p.m. on the CW, and repeats on Monday, July 8 at 7 p.m.