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VPL in New York City Ballet’s Ad Campaign : VPL

VPL in New York City Ballet’s Ad Campaign

Photography by Henry Leutwyler


Ballet Gets Personal in New Ads


Each evening next week, advertisements including one showing a fine-featured, blonde-haired woman outfitted in a nude bustier will be projected against buildings in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side and SoHo. She’s captured in an embrace with a muscular young man, his arms encircling her waist.

While they could be hawking lingerie, or perhaps perfume, what in fact they’re selling is ballet.

New York City Ballet’s new ad campaign marks an image overhaul as it seeks out a younger audience.

Set to expand on Monday following its August launch, New York City Ballet’s new marketing campaign features a relaxed, casually sexy aesthetic that represents a radical image overhaul for the company, part of its most significant effort yet to appeal to the younger New Yorkers it hopes will become future patrons.

With its fall season beginning Sept. 14, the ballet will begin targeting downtown Manhattan neighborhoods with a series of nighttime outdoor projections and will deploy “brand ambassadors” who will distribute vouchers for two-for-one tickets.

It is also increasing its subway advertising, having purchased all of the rush-hour advertising space on the 42nd Street Shuttle subway line for the entire month of September, a first for the company.

The aggressive push to reshape its demographic comes under the direction of Executive Director Katherine E. Brown, who was hired last December to oversee all nonartistic matters, including marketing. Like many performing-arts organizations, the ballet in recent years has struggled with the consequences of aging audiences and tepid ticket sales.

In an effort to recruit beyond its traditional patron base, “We’re trying to project the personal and the human side of these really exceptional artists,” Ms. Brown said. “It was deliberate to have them not in the traditional tutu-and-tiara look, but more in their own rehearsal clothes.”

Until now the company, which also advertises in The Wall Street Journal, has relied on promotional materials depicting dancers as they appear in performance—wearing traditional stage costumes and arranged in ballet poses. As Marketing Director Karen Girty described it: “One of the biggest departures is that we’re used to capturing a moment in a ballet and staying true to choreography in our ads. But this was more natural: no buns, no diamonds, no [false] eyelashes. We were very open with the dancers about the fact that we wanted them to come through in these photographs.”

The effort to humanize the performers of NYCB is not limited to the visual style of the images; it is also reflected in the text accompanying some of the online and print advertising. Dancer Andrew Veyette appears in a print brochure alongside his fiancé, fellow principal Megan Fairchild. The text quotes Mr. Veyette as saying: “I love performing Square Dance, especially when I get to dance with Megan.”

Asked in the campaign’s online “micro-site” why he began dancing, Mr. Veyette responds: “Because I like girls.” Another dancer, Robert Fairchild, discusses his “hidden talent”—his ability to mimic the Chewbacca character from “Star Wars.” And dancer Sébastien Marcovici discloses his offstage interests: DJing and playing poker.

The photos were shot by Henry Leutwyler, a portrait photographer whose subjects have included rapper 50 Cent, Queen Noor of Jordan and first lady Michelle Obama. Mr. Leutwyler also shot several of the ballet’s previous campaigns and said that ever since he started working for the company he’s been interested in producing more intimate portraits of the dancers. But, he said, “It was baby steps in this direction. It’s a big house and there are many opinions, so you have to walk on your tippie toes. If I had tried to do this the first time around, it maybe wouldn’t have happened.”

The catalyst was a strategic planning process conducted by the company about a year ago. Ms. Brown said one of the important determinations of that process, which preceded her hiring, was the need to “enhance the customer experience.”

An ad from the New York City Ballet’s new marketing campaign.

She said: “It was clear that making a stronger connection between the audience and the artist is something that would deeply enhance the audience experience and break down the veil between the artist and the audience.”

The mystique of ballet dancers, however, is for many people part of their appeal, said Aaron Shapiro, a partner at HUGE, an interactive advertising agency based in Brooklyn that has designed websites for companies including the New York Philharmonic and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

“The risk is that in many ways it takes away the magic of the ballet,” Mr. Shapiro said of NYCB’s campaign. “You don’t necessarily get the feeling of that amazing experience of being at the ballet, and you could argue that one of the goals [of marketing material] is to create that excitement.”

Ms. Girty acknowledged that concern. “We talk about that a lot in this building because you do want to retain some of that mystique,” she said. “But on the other hand if you have a personal, emotional connection to something, you’re sold for life.”

Thread NY

We’re Loving: The NYC Ballet

We're Loving: The NYC Ballet

Henry Leutwyler

When Fashion Week installs itself at Lincoln Center this September, the 8-day event promises to be the talk of the town. But even before the decision to move the Spring 2011 presentations—designers, models, editors, buyers, photographers, hooplah and all—from Bryant Park‘s storied tents, the new venue has long been residence to some of the city’s most spectacular fashion. One look at the New York City Ballet’s latest season bulletin, and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

Gorgeously styled by Polina Aronova, the catalogue features the the NYCB company dancers, mostly in their own everyday dance apparel, looking so effortlessly elegant and chic that it’s tempting to call it a lookbook. From corset tops to leggings and body-hugging wraparound sweaters, and perhaps most obviously, ballet flats, this dance form has laid the groundwork for much of our day-to-day style.

You don’t have to be a ballerina to appreciate the utilitarian polish of a simple tank top layered with a flirty skirt—nor do you need a dancer’s body to embrace the shade of light pink. And you certainly don’t need to be a fashion editor to view these timeless styles.

Bravo, NYC Ballet!

BY Laura Neilson // Monday, Jul 26, 2010 at 10:43 EDT