The other week marked September 11th’s twelfth anniversary. A moment in history that will no doubt live on in the minds and hearts of Americans. Yet, I can’t help but get the impression that its legacy is dwindling. Probably for the better, it seems most opt to quietly remember as opposed to making a big deal of it all. As writer Robert Frost famously once said, “in three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” While some may have carried forward, New York City Ballet has not. Or have they? In a poetic homage titled New Beginnings, the company staged and filmed a performance atop 4 World Trade Center. The result is touching. It’s poetic, poignant even. I cannot stress this enough: it’s the perfect 9/11 tribute, harkening Frost’s aforementioned sentiment.
New Beginnings captures an extraordinarily moving performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Created as both a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and as a tribute to the future of the city that NYC Ballet calls home, it was filmed at sunrise on the 57th floor terrace of 4 WTC. With the Freedom Tower and New York’s iconic skyline as backdrop, two NYC Ballet Principal Dancers, Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour, perform an excerpt as dawn signals the beginning of a new day:
Peter Martins, NYC Ballet’s Master-in-Chief, comments “dance really is a powerful universal language, and the New York City Ballet is deeply honored to be able to present this remarkable and touching performance.” This sentiment struck me, as I never would’ve imagined myself sitting here, writing a piece about ballet for an art and design blog… Although after doing just that, I feel I was previously ignorant. As Martin’s stresses, Ballet is an art form, and a moving one at that, which New Beginnings exemplifies. Creatives take note: this production serves as a reminder to the power of marrying two unlikely entities. Whoever would’ve thought that the Ballet would be a suitable median to deliver such a heartening message? It only took 12 years, but I think we can all resoundingly agree on the suitability of the pairing—the powerful message that it’s able to evoke.
But why wait 12 years? Before going any further, I think it’s neat to shed light onto the origin of New Beginnings. In 2001, NYC Ballet was on the last leg of a European tour, slated to perform at Teatro Regio in Parma, Italy. The concert was ultimately cancelled, as news of the events unfolding back in NY made its way over. By curtain time, Martins recounted the scrub to a sold-out audience, saying “we came here to dance, it is what we do, but our hearts are breaking and it is simply not possible for us to perform this evening.” But a promise was made, “we will be back tomorrow, and we will be honored to perform for all of you then.” NYC Ballet did indeed perform at the Teatro Regio the following evening, September 12, 2001. And 12 years to the day, they performed once more, this time offering New Beginnings. Beautiful.
There’s no denying that New Beginnings marks a fresh start for the city of New York, the NYC Ballet, and probably America too. But, I would also argue it introduces a new-state for advertising as well. What strikes me about this campaign is that it doesn’t feel like advertising. Props to the agency behind it all, DDB NY, for digging deep and creating content. I reached out to the creative duo behind the idea, Rodrigo de Castro Silva and Joao Unzer, who had this to say, “the business is changing and we have to change with it. Creating content like this puts the brand in history as opposed to a traditional approach that just temporarily places the brand in peoples’ minds.”
It’s agencies like DDB, and creatives such as Silva and Unzer, whom push the medium. Having worked with NYC Ballet previously, the pair stated “the New York City Ballet is amazing. They are one of the best dance companies in the world. They are at the forefront of experimentation, which makes us push ourselves creatively even further, to come up with ideas that transcend advertising.” Pushing further can be as simple as creating a conversation with the consumer, not shouting at them. “It’s definitely a better way to speak to consumers. Instead of creating commercials that bookend the news, we are creating the news. We’re generating content consumers want to see, to talk about, and to share, rather than just skip,” comments Silva. Quite the convincing argument, and I think you’d have a hard time rebutting when you look at the success of New Beginnings. Kudos to all involved.