The Arts v. Technology

I read an article recently that dovetails nicely with my last post.  I mentioned in Modern Plato that technology is becoming a crutch and causing our generation to grow up over-stimulated.  In an article called “Last Rites” by Sara Hamdan, she discusses how the arts, and in particular, ballet, is losing its audience.  How many of us view ballet as in the image below?  Beautiful, graceful, and completely irrelevant to our daily lives.  In fact, we often don’t enjoy attending the ballet because it is such a passive activity.  We sit in chairs and watch these dancers do incredible things but we cannot relate to them because we can no longer appreciate the stories.  In other words, we are not a part of those stories.  This is such a loss for our culture because ballet does so much more than just allow people the opportunity to watch something incredibly beautiful and almost ethereal.  It keeps our culture grounded, as do most of the arts, because it is something that everyone is supposed to relate to and find something enjoyable in the viewing of it.  The over-stimulation caused by video-games and other technological devices are causing the arts to disintegrate.  Also, the lack of funding due to a lack of audience is a detriment because the ballet and the other arts cannot survive without patrons.  Jobs are so scarce in the ballet world that because of the lack of funding, dancers are being let go and new dancers are pushing themselves to new extremes just to get hired by a dance company.

As a former dancer, this article made me sad because I have always enjoyed ballet for what it is–that is, something that I can appreciate because I know the time and effort and sacrifices the dancers put into what they do.  Because the present generation is so wrapped up in entertainment that allows them to be a part of the story (look at 3-D movies, for example) and interact with many mediums at once that to sit passively in a chair and watch something from afar seems like a punishment rather than a privilege and an enjoyable, fun activity.  Because of this, the article mentions a few ballet students at the Joffrey Ballet in New York and their response to what is happening within the culture.  These students are not despairing even though their futures are looking different from those of the dancer pictured above.  In fact, one of the students, Claire Sargenti, wrote:

“We had the greatest conversation of my life.  We were so excited.  Every single last word was shouted, even though we sat in a small circle.  We shouted about art in America.  We shouted about performing arts, and dance, and ballet, specifically, and how it’s dying in America.  We shouted about how, as young dying American artists, we had to do something to make a change.  Or we would explode.  Or defect to Europe.  We shouted about saving ballet in America, or contributing to its death, bringing on a better, faster version of the inevitable–slow unnoticed death or a high speed dramatic suicide.  Why can’t we perform with other non-dance artists, like how there were graffiti artists in the early productions of Billboards?  Why can’t we try a few crazy things and possibly get arrested in the name of art, and really just make ballet?” (pp. 23-24).

Enter New Bridges Ballet.  The concept that was born that night. Instead of the graceful dancers pictured on stage in flowing, gauzy outfits, we get the juxtaposition of grace against the background of the city.  Instead of gauzy outfits, we get jeans and tee shirts.  This new concept of placing ballet in the middle of daily life, instead of quarantined to the stage, shows the dramatic response to the end of the arts as we know them.  Instead of allowing the culture of technology and lack of funding to defeat it, ballet transforms its image to invite people to take a second look and not completely write it off as something we cannot relate to.  The young dancers that are part of these companies are trying to make it on limited funds and are searching for job options that are going to support them while at the same time the dancers are able to be a part of their first and great love–dance.

The article was fascinating to me as a former dancer but also because of the juxtaposition of technology and stimulation versus the passivity of the arts.  I hope that New Bridges Ballet and other young dancers continue to make a stand and share their passion with the over-stimulated generations.  Society needs culture to survive and by recreating that culture to include more of the population–mainly, the younger members–will help the culture of the arts to survive.  The article was also interesting because it made me think about some of my comments in my previous post, especially those about technology becoming too much of a crutch in society.

Society has a lot to think about.  In order to maintain itself, it is going to have to continue supporting the arts.  But in order for the arts to be maintained, they are going to have to recreate their images.  This will take time and effort and money, all of which are rather limited.  However, the time and effort and money will be well worth it when the arts continue in our culture and people once again realize their worth and importance.  Fortunately for us, this has already started with ballet companies.  Just look at New Bridges Ballet.

Below is a video commercial for last year’s Nutcracker performed by the Oklahoma City Ballet.  I thought it was an innovative and fun commercial that shows some of the changes being made by the arts.

Reference: Hamdan, Sara.  “Last Rites.”  First Things. Issue 205.  (2010): pages 18-25.  Print.


6 Responses to “The Arts v. Technology”

  1. Enjoyable post and I appreciate that you cited your images’ sources. Does increased access to the ballet experience also carry with it some good things?

    • Of course! In fact, that was what I was trying to say in my post. One of the main ways increasing access to the ballet is a good thing is that it makes more people aware. For example, September 1st is Oklahoma City Ballet day and for this day, the OKC Ballet puts on a free show on the lawn in front of the Civic Center in downtown Oklahoma City. This creates increased access because people can stop by and watch the performances on their way to and from lunch, they can plan to stay for the whole performance, or they can just come and go. By creating a free show, more people are able to enjoy the ballet and what the ballet can do. Another reason making the ballet more accessible is a good thing is because it will interest my generation and younger generations in ballet rather than making it difficult for them to appreciate because of high cost and inaccessible stories. Ballet companies around the United States are beginning to see the advantages to making the ballet more accessible. It is something that will take a lot of time, effort, and money but instead of losing this part of our culture we will maintain it and make it more enjoyable for all ages.

      Here is a short video about OKC Ballet Day:

  2. Lynn Lewis Says:

    Beautiful! I wonder if Lessig’s ideas about remix can be applied to ballet? Does New Bridges remix ballet?

  3. Yes to both questions! New Bridges Ballet does remix ballet as shown in the video clip below. As far as Lessig is concerned, his idea of remix–making something that already exists better–is applicable to ballet. In order for ballet to survive and remain relatively popular it is necessary for it to “remix” itself and incorporate different aspects of itself into performances.

    Here is the link to the New Bridges Ballet clip:

  4. Hi, This is Claire Sargenti, the Artistic Director of New Bridges Ballet. I just read your blog, and just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to write about us and for appreciating what we do. Ballet is more alive and exciting than ever; the world just doesn’t know it yet!

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