Nearly 15,000 people subscribe to the company’s YouTube channel and more than 391,000 have watched her video of the company’s jumping class, first posted in 2011.
“People love the physical feats, the big jumps,” said Thomas. Another YouTube hit for the company last year was principal dancer Carrie Imler and former PNB principal (currently a principal with Dutch National Ballet) Casey Herd rehearsing the Swan Lake Third Act Coda. Filmed in the company’s rehearsal studios at the Seattle Center, the pair are watched by an applauding group of fellow dancers sitting on the floor.
Since Thomas began with PNB in 2009, she’s helped the audience catch many such close and personable glimpses of life in the dance studio. Her own obsession with capturing dance on film came earlier.
“I started making dance videos when I was at Skidmore College,” she said. “When I was researching schools, I was looking on YouTube to see if they had any performance footage.”
Discovering that Skidmore lacked videos, Thomas proposed making some as a student project. Then, in 2009, she took a marketing internship at PNB.
“I came at the perfect time,” she said. The company had received a Wallace Foundation grant to expand its digital presence. That helped Thomas acquire the needed software and equipment for adding more videos to their website. These days she also films the company's television spots and works as part of a video crew covering the dress rehearsals.
The self-taught videographer looks for stories both on stage and off. “Inspiration is everywhere,” said Thomas, who often sketches out two or three video stories per “rep” or program.
“Then if we have something bigger, like the building of the new “Nutcracker” (in 2015), we’ll start talking about it now,” she added.
Thomas also works to make sure that her online content is not just for the “ballet nerdy,” although there are going to be enough backstage peeks and interviews to satisfy the most ardent dance fans too. She spends part of her workweek checking the videos of other dance companies and seeing what attracts viewers, looking for ideas that “pop” in today’s social media world.
“There’s no formula for going viral,” she said. “That’s still a matter of luck and timing. Something like New York City Ballet’s ‘New Beginnings’ (which received more than 1 million views in 2013) reached beyond the ballet audience.” The performance of Christopher Wheeldon's “After the Rain” was filmed on the 57th floor of 4WTC in lower Manhattan, and captured the country’s imagination as a moving tribute to the resilience of New York on the anniversary of 9/11.
Thomas thinks that dance companies can’t afford to ignore the audience that a good video attracts.
“It’s harder to be seen than it was,” she added. “There’s so much more content now than just a few years ago. In 2008, you could shoot something with an iPhone, put it up, and attract views. Now you have to be more professional.”
If a company can’t afford their own in-house videographer, she suggests contacting a local college with a film school or advertising for a volunteer.
“People love to film dance,” she said.