Big Data makes the Austin dance scene

Turns out that the same charitable foundation that backed Austin Opera‘s general manager Annie Burridge when she supervised a segmented audience study earlier at Opera Philadelphia is underwriting a similar look at Ballet Austin.

RELATED: Austin Opera leader turns to Big Data to engage audiences.

The Wallace Foundation’s $52 million “Building Audiences for Sustainability” initiative intends to expand and deepen each arts group’s audience engagement by asking layered questions about why people are motivated to attend.

On Thursday, the foundation released an article and a video that upend long-held assumptions about how audiences behave. Ballet Austin is two years into the rigorous study, which so far shows that the assumed evolutionary continuum of audience tastes from story ballets to more abstract works is not supported by the data, but rather that people need more information on ballet altogether to feel more assured that they will fell comfortable with the experience.

They also found that people respond to videos that they discover digitally and that they also want to make social, intellectual and emotional connections. (Hey, that’s what we do, too!)

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Here’s a snippet from the fascinating article:

“Every December, Ballet Austin puts on “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Stephen Mills. Virtually all of the 14 performances at the 2,442-seat Long Center for the Performing Arts are filled to capacity. “We could sell out more shows,” says Cookie Ruiz, executive director of the Texas company, “but it would wear our dancers out.”

“Packed houses are the case for other classics, too. But a different picture emerges for more abstract works, which don’t attract the crowds that flock to “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and the like. That reality is frustrating for the dance company – and not just because unsold tickets mean unrealized revenue.

It also runs counter to Ballet Austin’s mission: to create new work and develop talent, thereby extending the ballet repertoire and advancing the art form. Ruiz sums up the problem with a simple question:

“How do we go about developing larger audiences for entirely new work?”


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