March 26, 2018

Brett Raphael | Artistic Director/CEO, Connecticut Ballet

Brett Raphael

Brett Raphael, Connecticut Ballet artistic director/CEO, doesn't tip-toe around ballet's challenges: It has to change perceptions and attract younger audiences, part of the motivation behind a May 11 event for young professionals.

That's when "Friday Night out at the Ballet" — a 6:30 p.m. pre-show event (free glass of wine included) with behind-the-scenes tidbits of the "Russian Classics" show that night — aims to demystify the unique ballets at The Bushnell.

The Russian ballets are "Raymonda Variations" and "Petrouchka." A third show that evening, "Pulse," is a contemporary, edgy work with techno music and as far from Russian ballet as you can get, Raphael said.

Do arts like ballet have a perception problem among young people?

The traditional symphony, opera and ballet performing-arts institutions have a real perception problem and rightfully so. Those art forms have largely been a function of white privilege in our society. It's time to do what shows like "Frozen," "Wicked," and "Lion King," have done for younger audiences: excite them with visuals, engage them with pertinent content, and keep it affordable.

What's your biggest opportunity trying to attract a younger audience?

Showcase the sheer athleticism of ballet and extreme commitment to hone our technique passed down largely from European conservatories and national theaters of the 19th and 20th centuries. We have fabulous talent to showcase.

What's your biggest challenge trying to attract a younger audience?

Removing barriers to attending something one hasn't experienced before. Some young professionals ask what's appropriate dress for the theater. Answer: It's a night out. Casual to chic.

What would young people find most surprising about a ballet performance?

How diverse we are. We have top dancers from Sweden, Cuba, Brazil, Australia, Nicaragua, Russia, Japan, Colombia and the U.S.

What's the competitive climate for audiences' discretionary income?

Brutal. We're competing with the bar scene on one hand and big-screen, HD simulcasts of the Bolshoi Ballet and Metropolitan Opera for $15 on the other. But when people see the quality and breadth of a production like "Petrouchka," they'll understand the need to charge more. It's New York-quality in Hartford.

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