Video pandemic pivot opens new doors for artistic groups

In March 2020, a day before the opening of their latest production, Pacific Northwest Ballet announced it would close in-person performances. It was one of many show groups across the country to do so, as public health guidelines banned large gatherings in order to contain the spread of COVID-19. It was just as the company was working hard on a major premiere with a new artist in residence, Alejandro Cerrudo, recalls PNB videographer Lindsay Thomas.

Thomas, who grew up in dance and now films the company for its social media and marketing needs, held a unique role: his work now featured one of the only ways the company could stay in touch with its audience. without live performance. “It quickly became clear that we weren’t coming back, and we started to tinker together… a semblance of the season that was originally planned,” she says.

This involved recording the final dress rehearsal for the company’s latest production – “making sure that all the work that had been put into that show didn’t disappear” – and filling out a performance schedule with video from the archives. of PNB, including images of Jean – “Romeo and Juliet” by Christophe Maillot which Thomas edited for digital distribution.

It was new territory for PNB. Ballet companies aren’t necessarily designed for digital distribution – choreography and music rights can add up, Thomas says, and not all companies have extensive records to draw on. “There were companies that didn’t put in anything because they had nothing to work with,” she says.

Yet in 2020 and 2021, major ballet companies across the country turned to digital or hybrid performances, as have several dance companies in Seattle, including Whim W’Him, who shared dance films and performed. was producing outdoors, and Spectrum Dance Theater, which offered prerecorded performances in the form of socially distanced solos.


It turned out that there was an audience for digital performances. According to internal PNB numbers, 15,370 households watched the company’s digital programming during the 2020-2021 season, in 39 countries and 50 states. In all, PNB has commissioned 17 previously unreleased works for digital distribution, each with its own choreographic flair. “Some choreographers came in and thought, ‘I want this to look like a live performance,’” says Thomas.

But others have embraced the innovations made possible by the new digital format, making creative decisions like filming dancers in the orchestra pit, which audiences normally wouldn’t see. “Everyone came with different levels of experience and vision for this, so I couldn’t have predicted how everyone would approach their new job differently,” says Thomas.

The company has also expanded its content to include features like Spotify playlists, behind-the-scenes footage, posts from dancers or director Peter Boal, and even a cocktail-making video. They were all ways of keeping in touch with subscribers and regular members of the public – “so people will remember… us every time we come out on the other side of that.”

Now PNB is back at McCaw Hall, with “The Nutcracker” set to attract new audience members like it has for so long. But the company will still offer digital subscriptions. This is in part a reflection of the uncertainty balletomaniacs have faced over the past year and a half: “We wanted to give our subscribers the confidence to resubscribe… when no one knows what the future holds. their reserve, ”explains Thomas.

The transition to performing arts has also been a positive development for the dancers in the company, she says. “It was difficult to perform in an empty auditorium, so being able to capture a live audience definitely changes the performance of the dancers, in a good way.”

But even with Zoom’s fatigue, Thomas says, PNB’s audience has held up during the pandemic, with customers consuming more than 53,600 hours of the company’s digital content. “We have continued to keep very consistent numbers in terms of the number of people watching our performance.”

And Thomas is still filming, with an emphasis on rehearsals for “The Nutcracker,” which had recently featured the excitement of company members taking on new roles in the ballet. Video is no longer the only way for customers to follow PNB, but Thomsas’ focus has not changed. “Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time,” she says. “But I’m just trying to film a lot of stuff, and if anything makes me gasp or goosebumps, I know that’s a good sign.”

The Nutcracker is back! Gather your loved ones for “The Nutcracker by George BalanchineAt the Pacific Northwest Ballet. With its classical score, thrilling dance, vibrant landscapes and costumes, and magical story, “The Nutcracker” is the perfect centerpiece for a vacation in the Northwest.


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