What does the Volvo Ocean Race and ballet have in common? I will come to that later, but with the remarkable news a couple of weeks ago that there will not be a New Zealand team competing in the next edition of the VOR, this is a clear indication on how tough the sponsorship market is out there. Just remember what Camper achieved in the last race; having struggled in jib reaching conditions and then seriously broken their boat on leg 5, the Kiwi/Spanish entry kept it together to win the final leg of the race, grab the 24 hour record and secure second place overall. With a team boss as thorough and committed as Grant Dalton plus a deep pool of talent to choose from, now racing a one design boat that levels the field, surely Dalt’s and the team could have gone one better? Well no, even with their country’s incredible Whitbread/Volvo history and an Auckland stopover in this next VOR, the funding didn’t quite happen.
So why is the Volvo like Ballet? Well, it is like ballet and soccer and classical music and art exhibitions and NASCAR and baseball – because what it must do to survive is it has to excite people into paying attention, possibly getting off the couch to go and look or at least click online to check it out – bums on seats or likes or tweaks. The real key is to engage in an emotional level: don’t believe me? Look at an NFL game or English soccer crowd or a French Rugby stand everything is about passion and emotion there. I pick ballet as an example for one reason and one person, Sergei Diaghilev. He wasn’t a dancer or a choreographer, Diaghilev was a remarkable impresario, the showman – the man who got the money to make it happen.
In tough and uncertain times just before the First World War, his Ballets Russes toured in Europe, North and South America trying new things, with dancers such a young George Balanchine, Karsavina and Nijinsky, composers like Stravinsky, and set and costume designers like Coco Chanel, Henri Mattisse and Pablo Picasso. What do you reckon was bigger, the egos or the payroll? Diaghilev would constantly be away, struggling and fighting to get funding for all this and the ballet company knew they had to work furiously hard to survive, and be innovative, and take risks – and everybody knew that every single performance had to make an impact. Diaghilev would rush back from trying to secure this funding without knowing a great deal of what the rehearsal was about – and here is the key point that has everything to do with anything you are trying to promote today – he would come straight from the train station, grab a chair and sit on stage and say two words. ‘Astonish me.’ – Blue Robinson.