Online, performers step it up

Special to The Times

It STARTED as a simple back flip. Well, maybe it wasn’t that simple. Los Angeles dancer-choreographer Jacob “Kujo” Lyons executed the risky move for a video camera -- tumbling through the air from a bouncing seesaw into a pair of blue jeans. The resulting footage, combined with scenes of three other guys athletically donning their dungarees, was conceived and shot by Benzo Theodore as a viral ad for Levi’s and was posted on YouTube on May 5.

That was a Monday. By Friday, the video, which doesn’t mention the brand name, had accrued nearly 2 million views and been broadcast on “Good Morning America.” Later, it was even displayed on a Jumbotron in New York’s Times Square.

Lyons, 31, who fuses break dance with contemporary dance and heads the L.A.-based company Lux Aeterna, couldn’t be prouder.


“It was extremely exciting and a personal triumph for me to be able to physically pull off that stunt,” he says. “After two hours and 40 back flips, I finally did it.”

More than that, though, more than 3 million people have now seen the feat online. Welcome to dance on the World Wide Web.

Thanks to the Internet and especially YouTube, dancers of all stripes are finding audiences around the world. Conversely, dance aficionados are able, with the click of a mouse, to see not only legendary performers of the past, such as Anna Pavlova as “The Dying Swan,” but also today’s crop of hot young talent.

Say you’d like to catch 24-year-old sensation Rolando Sarabia, hailed as the “Cuban Nijinsky.” Just go to YouTube, where he dances his heart out in dozens of video clips, including one shot when, at 16, he was already demonstrating his mettle. Siberian-born Daniil Simkin, 21, who is joining American Ballet Theatre as a soloist this fall, has racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Plus, he has a MySpace page and a detailed blog enabling his fans to track his balletic comings and goings.

At the same time, dance companies big and small are joining the global village. New York City Ballet launched its website in 1998. The current incarnation is its third. What’s more, in September NYCB premiered its own YouTube channel.

General Manager Ken Tabachnick says the success of the troupe’s Internet presence is palpable. “We have an increasingly robust program of utilizing the Web, and our ongoing research shows that more people not only see us on the Web but purchase tickets on the Web,” he says. “For ‘Nutcracker,’ we are approaching at least 50% of ticket sales, particularly with people under 39.”

Asked what company co-founder and choreographer George Balanchine would have thought about the Internet, Tabachnick replies, “He was an innovator. Balanchine loved change and didn’t shy away from new things. I imagine he would have loved it.”

Closer to home, albeit on a much smaller scale, consider Anaheim Ballet, which was incorporated in San Clemente in 1982, is directed by the husband-and-wife team Lawrence and Sarma Rosenberg and took up residence in Anaheim in 1997. Seven years later, Lawrence Rosenberg began hosting a public-access television show, “Anaheim Ballet and Friends.” While he interviewed people from the dance world, his son, Evan, a dancer and college student, began to learn the production ropes.

Then, after producing about 50 shows, the Rosenbergs branched out into the virtual world. In late 2006, they created a YouTube account, and Evan downloaded their first offering, a mini-documentary he had made about the troupe’s “Nutcracker.” Released on iTunes and also available for viewing on the company’s MySpace page, the segment kicked off what would become weekly podcasts by the troupe.

That series, which premiered on Jan. 1, 2007, and now includes more than 70 segments, began with a profile of South Korean-born dancer Jimmy Cha. Tagged “Anaheim Ballet: More Than Dance . . . ,” the videos have racked up an astonishing 5 million-plus views, garnering more than 50,000 hits weekly. The most viewed video is titled “Ballet: Dancers.” It features several performers doing pirouettes, fouettes and leaps and has been seen more than 2.5 million times.

Evan Rosenberg operates the camera, edits the footage, does the voice-overs and even composes most of the music for the podcasts. These glimpses into the ballet world also include instructional videos on such things as styling a female dancer’s hair into the requisite ballet bun.

Synergy at work

“Ifell in love with podcasts early on,” says Evan, who recently posted the troupe’s latest video, rehearsals from its upcoming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will be performed Saturday at the OC Pavilion.

“I like the delivery system and the subject matter,” he explains. “I knew that weekly podcasts would be the best way to go, like a TV show. There was an immediate response, and we get comments from around the world -- Saudi Arabia, Israel, South America and Japan -- in different languages.”

Evan says that Anaheim Ballet has, on occasion, been designated by YouTube as the most-viewed nonprofit channel, putting it among such company as the William J. Clinton Foundation, the March of Dimes and New York City Ballet.

But does it translate into ticket sales?

“Because we don’t have a physical theater to call our own,” says Lawrence Rosenberg, who also teaches ballet at Chapman University, “we decided to create a virtual one. I hate to sound altruistic, but at this moment I’m happy with people telling me, ‘You’ve rekindled my love of dance.’ ”

The elder Rosenberg says he and his son are working on an online product page but acknowledges that for now, the podcasts and Internet “have not been monetized” by them.

Someone whose work is translating into dollars, via jobs for dancers, is Grover Dale. The original Snowboy in “West Side Story,” Dale went on to forge a career on the Great White Way as a performer, choreographer and director.

But these days, when Dale is not giving workshops or filming dance around the world, he is occupied with Answers4Dancers, a service website designed to help hoofers gain employment. Subtitled “Fastrack to Dance Employment,” the site is an outgrowth of a magazine Dale published for 12 years, Dance and Fitness, as well as a column he wrote for Dance Magazine.

Launched in 1999, the site was inspired, in part, by the Tony nominee’s early auditions.

“I was as green as they come when I got into ‘West Side Story,’ but I started to pay attention to what was going on,” recalls Dale, 72. “I learned dancing is a business, and you need to market yourself, to sell yourself, and you need to be able to do that without speaking. When you go to an audition, you need to convey enough signals to the choreographer that you are interesting to watch, that you can not only do their work but you’re the kind of person they can spend eight hours a day with.”

In addition to posting information about approximately 200 new auditions each month, including national and international casting calls, Dale offers detailed advice from professional dancers and choreographers, all available for a monthly membership fee. In addition, his DanceBlast!, a free weekly e-newsletter, reports on myriad tips and trends.

According to Dale, his site gets 100,000 visitors a month and he devotes as much as 50 hours a week to it. Divided into categories -- such as auditions and jobs, tips and secrets, tools and training, and success stories -- Answers4Dancers is also loaded with videos of rehearsals and performances, reader comments and topics that include “Beyonce Audition Dish.”

New Jersey-based Emily Dann, 19, recently returned from Athens, where she was on the hit television show “So You Think You Can Dance Greece.” Her sojourn lasted four months and was the direct result of a New York-based audition listing she found on the website.

“I heard about the site from another dancer and joined last year,” says Dann, who with her partner was among the last eight couples on the Greek show before getting the boot. “I think it’s awesome. It gives so many people opportunities, and without it I wouldn’t be going on three to four auditions a week.”

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to check out Dann’s steamy moves in the Greek capital — and her tearful departure -- can find them, naturally, on YouTube, where Andy Warhol’s prophecy that everybody would be famous for 15 minutes now seems superseded by a world of eternal renown. At least in cyberspace, Dann and others like her can continue to dance, download and dream to their hearts’ content, all the while tracking those millions of viewers.