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On 20 Nov 2013 The New York Times published an article by Michael Cooper and Roslyn Sulcas entitled "Ballet Dancers as Brands". The opening sentence was as follows
"A wave of international ballet stars are increasingly leaping from company to company, creating their own brands and becoming more like world-traveling conductors and opera stars."Alina Cojocaru was quoted as saying:
"Ballet careers are relatively short and require years of training that pose the risk of injury, yet the world’s top dancers earn far less money than their counterparts elsewhere in show business."Less money? Well according to Cooper and Sulcas only three dancers at American Ballet Theatre earned more than US$190,000 and the étoiles at the Paris Opera earn on average, around US$125,000 a year. Now bearing in mind how long it takes to become a principal and how few dancers actually reach the top that is not a lot of money. It may allow a reasonably comfortable standard of living for a few years while the dancer is at the peak of his or her career but it does not allow him or her to plan, save and invest for a comfortable retirement or other priorities like private education for his or her children.
What to do about it? Well I don't think dancers can expect very much more from their companies. The arts in the United Kingdom at any rate rely on grants, ticket receipts and corporate and individual sponsorship for their income. Can that be increased? A bit perhaps but not by much. There is a limit to what the public will pay whether as taxpayer or theatre goer. Especially in hard times.
So is there anything else that can be done? Well perhaps. As the Bailey's Nutcracker commercial showed last Christmas ballet can sell. Maybe advertising, merchandising and endorsement. A few companies are already making a little extra money from advertising. The Royal Opera House shop offers a wide range of merchandise bearing the Royal Ballet name and crest such as books, calendars, greeting cards, t-shirts and videos. Other companies sell t-shirts. A website called Balletgifts, which appears to be based in New Cross. markets various items of clothing and other merchandise for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky. Many companies hire out rooms in their studios or their orchestras. Most also have schemes by which businesses and individuals can become friends or patrons of a company or sponsor individual productions or dancers.
What about individual dancers? A few superstars like Carlos Acosta and Darcey Bussell have websites through which they market branded merchandise. Acosta offers clothing and posters and advertises his book with links to Amazon and Waterstones. Bussell markets a range of children's dancewear, books and games and DVDs from her site. But not every principal of the Royal Ballet does that and a few do not even have websites or social media accounts. I think more could be done in that regard by other dancers because many ballet goers are loyal almost to the point of obsession referring to artists whom they hardly know and in most cases have never met or are ever likely to meet by their first names. Ballet tickets are not cheap yet some fans see the same work albeit with different casts in the same season. Moreover the audience for ballet and thus the fan base will expand massively with HDTV broadcasts to cinemas around the world.
If companies or dancers want to exploit such goodwill they have to protect and manage it in the way that sports stars and indeed other entertainers do. Company names and indeed the names of individual dancers are valuable assets and should be protected by trade mark registration. Last night I made a number of searches on the Intellectual Property Office databases and was surprised to find that not every major company in the United Kingdom let alone every dancer had registered their names and logos as trade marks. They really do need good advice on IP and licensing strategy and no doubt tax planning and pension advice as well. If there is sufficient interest from dancers and their companies to discuss these issues I would be very happy to organize one and speak for free as my gift to those who have given me so much pleasure in the past.