When Walnut Creek's Diablo Ballet asked the Twitterverse to contribute ideas for the world's first crowdsourced ballet early in January, the company didn't know what to expect. Nor did it know quite how far the idea would go. What it got was an unqualified success: scintillating if unusual artistic cues like "dodo birds," "gender-bending," and "turquoise," and a place on the global culture map.
The inaugural "web ballet" was dreamt up by Diablo Ballet marketing director Dan Meagher, a man on a mission to make dance performance accessible and relevant. He was also behind last season's controversial "tweet seats," where texting and tweeting during the performance was not merely tolerated but encouraged. The idea this time around was for artistic director Lauren Jonas and dancer Robert Dekkers to narrow a vast field of crowdsourced ideas down to seven, which Dekkers would then piece together.
Tweets were tweeted. Facebook posts followed. Coverage by NPR and Huffington Post added momentum. Ultimately, more than 130 submissions came in from as far as Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Sweden. Meagher was impressed. "Why would somebody in Sweden know what Diablo Ballet is?" he mused. "That just goes to show you the power of social media."
The ballet world is conservative, and Diablo received some pushback to go with its sudden and significant profile boost. "My colleagues around the country were questioning why I'm allowing this to happen," Jonas said. "Artistic directors want to control every aspect of what is put out there, and with this you have to really trust."
She has total faith in Dekkers, who at 28 has established himself as a maker of experimental, edgy dance. "It's a sign of our time that we're not satisfied just to observe; we really want to be a part of things," Dekkers observed. So why not go all the way, and share his creative process with total strangers via the Internet? He melded their ideas for mood and movement into The Flight of the Dodo, a quirky, compelling allegory on man's predation of nature set to Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor (also chosen by audience vote).
"How is ballet going to continue to be relevant?" Dekkers asked. It's the question on every company director's mind. Inviting audiences to co-create gender-bending turquoise dodo birds may be part of the answer. The world will weigh in on the result, in 140 characters or less.
The Flight of the Dodo premieres on Friday and Saturday, March 2-3, at Shadelands Art Center (111 N. Wiget Ln., Walnut Creek) and will be viewable on YouTube afterward. The program also includes the world premiere of La Covacha, a Latin-infused piece by Diablo dancer David Fonnegra, and the West Coast premieres of Trey McIntyre's The Blue Boy and Sean Kelly's Sinuosity. Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; $28-$37. 925-943-1775 or DiabloBallet.org.