Dance is notoriously the most ephemeral of the performing arts: a glorious blur of movement and music and phhht! — it's gone. But New York City Ballet's newly revised website, www.nycballet.com, captures some of the onstage alchemy, and then extends it with a ton of information, photos, performance schedules, news items, and more.
Quite deliberately, there is something for everyone. Neophytes find helpful facts — how to buy tickets, where to park, listings of nearby restaurants — along with more general material that allays the newcomer's fear factor: no, people don't have to wear fur coats and diamonds to the ballet; yes, a night at the ballet is meant to be fun. Balletomanes who follow the performances of favorite dancers refer frequently to the constantly updated casting notices. Ballet students ranging from young beginners to determined "bunheads" can read biographies of Company dancers, a roster of ballet schools run by NYCB alumni, and the stories of the ballets.
And then there's material that appeals to just about anyone. Interviews of Company members by corps member Pauline Golbin and backstage photos by corps member Kyle Froman offer an unmatched dancers' perspective. An online gallery offers detailed close-ups of the Company's more dazzling costumes, and a trivia game tests the mettle of even the most devoted dancegoer. A repertory index includes photos, musical excerpts, and a wealth of information about virtually every ballet the Company has danced, from the landmark ballets everyone knows to less-familiar works. (Alborada del Gracioso, anyone?) Sure, no online collection of pixels and WAV files can substitute for being right there when the dancer merges with the dance, but the NYCB website is the next best thing.
"Our intention with the website is to open up New York City Ballet to the world," says Carol Landers, the Company's director of online media. Ms. Landers has been with the Company for 20 years and was involved with the launch of the Company's inaugural website in 1996. (That dot-com designation, unusual for a not-for-profit arts organization, reflects the shifting nomenclature of the Internet: since the NYCB site sells tickets, it initially seemed like a dot-com rather than a dot-org.)
"In a way," Ms. Landers continues, "the website's home page is like the huge glass windows at the front of New York State Theater. Through the site, you can leap in and see the entirety of the life of the Company. We want to show visitors the backstage world, the front of the house, the world of the dancers. The tone of the language, the size of the photographs, and the video and audio components were all developed to show New York City Ballet in the fullness of its operations and its current activities. Because it's so thrilling, so wondrous."
In addition to the depth of content, the site is a standout in another respect: you can buy tickets directly through NYCB, and there is no per-ticket service charge. Most sites charge a fee for each ticket purchased — anywhere from $5 to $12.25 per ticket — while www.nycballet.com charges a $6 handling fee per order, whether you buy one ticket or a dozen.
"Another unique aspect of the site," says Ms. Landers, "is that we have online games. We were thinking of ways to engage visitors, and since so many kids are attracted to games, a variety of games seemed like a way to go. We have them on all levels, from simple, easy games, to trivia questions that would challenge even Peter Martins. All of it is meant to tease your mind when you're on the site, and help visitors enter the world of New York City Ballet.
"Ballet is ultimately about aspiration, about making things wonderful. Anyone who has an interest in ballet — whether classical ballet in general or New York City Ballet in particular — will find something intriguing on the website. Our website has democratized people's ability to access the Company from anywhere in the world."
Robert Sandla writes frequently about the arts.