Flagship Ballet Changes Course And Five Years Later Audiences Are Responding

An Associated Press story (via Artsjournal.com) reports on the success the NYC Ballet has had in attracting younger audiences.  Not only has the average age dropped in the last five years, but the largest cohort of attendees as shifted from those in their 60s to those in their 30s.

In 2023, 53% of ticket buyers were under age 50, and people in their 30s made up the largest age segment by decade. Five years earlier, in 2018, 41% of ticket buyers were under 50, and people in their 60s made up the largest age segment.

The article says they have achieved this through a number of changes, some of which you might assume: Engagement via social media, both the organization’s accounts and those of individual dancers. Pricing – their 30 for 30 program which allowed those under 30 an opportunity to purchase any seat in the theater for $30 grew from 1,800 members pre-pandemic to 14,000 members now.

Perhaps less expected is the credit for the shift in audiences they give to the decision to shift from a single artistic leader to two. Five years ago the Ballet appointed Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan as an artistic team. This has apparently resulted in a significant change in the organizational culture:

Company insiders describe a mood different from the days when one outsized, all-powerful personality ruled from above. For one thing, the pair says they’ve instituted annual taking-stock conversations with each dancer.


She and Stafford say they’re also paying more attention to wellness, be it physical training to avoid injury, healthy diets, or a more frank discussion of mental health.

They have also changed the programming mix both in terms of commissioning collaborations between young choreographers and visual and musical artists with youthful followings and diversifying the ethnic and racial representation of dancers and choreographers.

And there have been collaborations with visual or musical artists with youthful followings — like the musician Solange, who in 2022 was commissioned to score a ballet by 23-year old choreographer Gianna Reisen.


Recently, the company heralded its first two Black dancers to dance Dewdrop, the second most important female “Nutcracker” role: India Bradley and guest artist Alexandra Hutchinson of the Dance Theater of Harlem. Yet to come is a Black Sugarplum Fairy. The company says 26% of of its dancers identify as people of color, whereas 10 years ago that figure was 13%. Stafford and Whelan have commissioned 12 ballets by choreographers of color in the last six years, it says.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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