The dance twittersphere is currently aflutter over this Wall Street Journal article. It seems to have started with some tweets by NYCB corps dancer, Devin Alberda, gently poking fun at NYCB benefactor David Koch, at A.D. Peter Martins’ recent drunk driving arrest, and mock-criticizing one of the yellow-face characters in Martins’ Magic Flute for its racial connotations. I’ve seen some of Alberda’s blog and twitter posts and have often found him to be clever and funny but have also sometimes wondered, hmmm, is that going too far? Actually, I’ve seen blog posts (other than Alberda’s) and thought, wow, I wonder what such and such artistic director would think if he saw that. But then I don’t think any less of the company, maybe just the dancer. And since I don’t want to know more, I don’t return to that blog. So, really, no harm done there.
Anyway, NYCB is now in negotiations with the dancers’ union to attain the ability to monitor the dancers’ tweets and Facebook and other social media posts. If the union gives them the right to do so, according to the article, they’ll be one of the first performing arts organizations to have that power.
It’s an interesting issue because, on one hand, it’s never smart to publicly criticize your boss of course, but what about when arguing that a certain stereotype in a certain ballet carries racist connotations is tantamount to such a criticism? In part, it’s a free speech issue, which somehow makes the issue seem especially problematic for an arts organization. I mean, in interviews artists will sometimes speak openly about something deemed offensive in a piece they perform (opera, a play, a ballet, etc.), though usually not as snidely as Alberda. But some on Twitter are also saying companies have the right to control their “brand” and many companies do such monitoring.
Others are saying Twitter and blogs are good for ballet because it’s such a rarefied, insular art form, it can only help for the public to have greater access to dancers’ daily lives via these popular platforms. But if the blogs and tweets are monitored, then it seems like they’re controlled, and not authentic. I’ve read dancer blogs before where it’s obvious a dancer is just a PR spokesperson for the company, and I don’t take them seriously at all. I usually read once or twice then never return. And it also makes me think the company’s using the dancer. So, maybe, if the posts are going to be heavily monitored, it would have the same effect on the public as not allowing them at all.
And what about dancers attacking critics? And what about the whole system of patronage, which ballet largely operates under? What if a dancer says something that has the potential to anger a patron?
Very complicated issue. Any thoughts? It’s a good article.