It was only a few years ago that the Dutch National Ballet was never shown on TV any more. Contacts with the NPS had died out. There was no money, no vision and no plans. But now we are the NTR’s media partner and have had a prominent spot on Christmas-time television over the past two years.
On Boxing Day, around 140,000 people watched our Don Quichotte. And around 50,000 will probably watch the short dance films. For us, these are interesting figures, as 50,000 is half of our audience numbers in the theatre each year! But if we’re honest, these figures are peanuts in the television world. Millions of Dutch people stay home to watch the reality show Boer zoekt Vrouw. And there are also spectacular ratings for So you think you can dance. The latter ought to be good for us, I should think, as trained ballet dancers also take part, which makes ballet more accessible to a wider audience.
And reaching a wide audience is, of course, exactly what we want. Three years ago, when I wanted to do something about our company’s absence from television, I had some pretty wild plans. In search of Clara, for example, was going to be a talent hunt show to find the new (little) Clara for The Nutcracker. That was bound to draw lots of viewers, even if they were just all the women who had ever dreamed of being a ballerina when they were seven. And I wanted to discuss such a programme with the Avro broadcasting company, as they focus on a very wide audience.
But what I didn’t know then was that the Dutch broadcasting companies have divided up culture among themselves. Dance and opera are done by the NTR – and nobody else. Cabaret is exclusive to the Vara and classical music belongs to the Avro. So even if the Avro had thought that In search of Clara was a great idea, they wouldn’t have touched it. That’s the official agreement between the broadcasting bosses. So I had to turn to the NTR.
Initially, I got really wound up about this territorialism in Hilversum (the centre of Dutch broadcasting). Why couldn’t you just take your good idea to the most suitable broadcaster? And why is a whole art form dependent on a single broadcasting company, which decides what they think is worth putting on the air? But complaining doesn’t usually get you anywhere. It’s better to actually get up and do something. And that’s just what we did, by developing and producing our own plans. It also helped that new people came to work at the NTR. And as the cooperation with the NTR gradually became better and more effective, my irritation subsided and I started to realise that the system of fixed links between broadcasting company and art form also has its advantages. There is a specialised editorial team, for instance, as well as less fragmentation, a greater sense of responsibility and better contacts. And that has been very productive recently. On Friday when I was having a drink with Bart and Joost, the NTR men responsible for dance, we were already talking about new plans. So nowadays you won’t hear me complaining about Hilversum any more.
And by the way, there is more than just Dutch TV. For instance, we are one of the first companies in the world that can be downloaded via iTunes (Hans van Manen Festival). At the moment, it’s only possible in the US, but Europe will be rolled out later this year. And in April, Don Quichotte will be released on DVD and Blu-ray. In short, I’d better put the champagne on ice again already. In a manner of speaking, that is, as on Friday we weren’t serving chilled champagne, but the less expensive Cava – because in the meantime I have to count the pennies. Surely you didn’t think we could make all these films and recordings for free ?