Best of the ballet blogs
As the boundaries blur between the watched and the watchers, Lyndsey Winship picks out the best of the ballet blogosphere
'Royal Ballet had 1 mugging, 1 driveby bag-snatch, 1 rucksack-swiping, 3 chases and, amongst that, 5 shows of the Sleeping Beauty… all in 6 days! So apart from that, Barcelona wasn't too bad!!' tweeted @Bennet76 earlier this month. It's not the usual kind of review you'd get from a ballet company's tour, because this one didn't come filtered through PRs or critics but straight from the dancer's mouth. @Bennet76, aka Royal Ballet senior soloist Bennet Gartside, is one of a growing number of dancers who tweet about life on stage and in the studio, chronicling their aches, injuries and dressing-room japes in a way audiences have never been privy to before. The trend has particularly taken off in the States, where New York City Ballet's Ashley Bouder (@AshleyBouder) even tweets during the intervals of her performances, critiquing the piqués and pirouettes she's pulled off just minutes before.
It's part of an ever-expanding conversation happening online with an increasingly sophisticated roster of blogs and webzines dedicated to dance. Ballet on the web is nothing new - early adopter Ballet.co (www.ballet.co.uk) was set up by Bruce Marriott in 1996 and now racks up around 8 million hits per month - but it's definitely getting bigger. Best of the new bunch is The Ballet Bag (www.theballetbag.com), a chic webzine run by ex-City lawyer Emilia Spitz and theoretical physicist Linda Uruchurtu, who regularly gain access to rehearsals and interviews with major artists, offering fans a backstage view and lots of background knowledge. Spitz and Uruchurtu met online discussing dance and decided that most of the writing on the web was either too specialised or 'propagating the myth that ballet's all cute and twee', so they set up their own blog with a 'fresh, young voice'.
Spitz regularly puts in around ten hours, unpaid, a week on the blog, so it's clearly a labour of love, but with a knack for utilising social media, she and Uruchurtu are part of a growing network of writers, fans and artists who congregate online, not only spreading the word about dance but debunking the myth that ballet is an exclusive world of stuffy, white-haired traditionalists. 'The best thing has been the ability to have a voice out there that represents a young ballet audience,' says Spitz, who presumably prefers iPhone to ice cream during the interval.
For the dancers, the web offers an opportunity to get feedback beyond the usual journalistic opinions. '“Carmen” was absolutely slammed [by critics] this season and yet so many people wrote to me and said, “You were fantastic,” ' says Gartside. 'You get a more general feel of what people think of a performance. Sometimes we come out of the stage door and speak to people [after a show] - this just opens it up a bit more.'
But while he's vocal about the daily grind and occasional petty crime of a dancer's life, Gartside keeps schtum about confidential casting info and the details of new works that haven't yet gone public. 'Everyone's tweeting, saying, “I wonder what it's going to be like?” and you're sat there biting your lip. But I do have boundaries to keep.'
There's no doubt the boundaries between artists, audience and critics are being eroded, though, and Gartside makes a point of tweeting about life beyond dance to break through that otherworldly image dancers sometimes have, and show the audience what being a dancer is really about. 'They only see us up on the stage, and it's nice to bring it back to the reality that we are [normal] people,' he says, 'and we're doing it for them.'
Dancers Jarkko Lehmus and Kristen McNally both blog at Ballet.co (www.ballet.co.uk/weblogs/lehmus and www.ballet.co.uk/weblogs/kristen mcnally). Editor Bruce Marriott says: 'Lehmus used to get drunk, chase girls and do a bit of ballet on the side, and is now really starting to focus on his career,' whereas the Royal Ballet's McNally 'is a wonderfully off-the-wall choreographer'.
For the audience view try Webcowgirl (http://webcowgirl.wordpress.com), an American expat and theatre buff, who's also a bit of a balletomane.