The relationship between a major classical dance company and its mainstream audience is crucial, and the artistic director has to be intimately tuned to this. If their broad artistic aspirations do not coincide, there can be considerable difficulty.
But what are those audience aspirations? Specialist groups within the audience will probably articulate their preferences laud and clear, but the mainstream audience will not. They will react in visceral fashion, and the first you know of it will be when they vote with their feet. ( Formal systems for audience feedback can fail badly. )
Fortunately, there will be a considerable body of experience in the company which has a “feel” for what the audience likes. In a company with a relatively well defined tradition for a particular type of work, the way forward will be pretty obvious. All the artistic director has to do is to make his commitment to that tradition clear, and show his / her intention to extrapolate that tradition as a first priority. In this respect, communication is important. Some kind of statement of intent ( to use the jargon, a “Mission Statement” ) may be helpful.
The audience is not stupid. They know the risks involved in artistic creation are high, and that there will be many works that do not fully meet expectations. Nevertheless, they will back a director whose aspirations broadly match their own.
Of course, there is an honourable tradition in artistic companies to lead their audiences to some degree, but this has to be done with extreme care. The new work must not be allowed to dominate until it is fully accepted. The close juxtaposition of a revolutionary new piece to, say, a major retrospective of much loved traditional work, may not be entirely appreciated.
It is important to remember that what dancers like to do is not necessarily what audiences want to see. The mainstream audience will not take kindly to mystifying performances of challenging dance that mean absolutely nothing, poor quality music that has just crawled out of a pop disco, or gimmicks masquerading as art. This is particularly the case with relatively sophisticated ( and relatively old ) metropolitan audiences in major opera houses. It is one thing to present “experimental” work in a small venue at low prices, quite another to include it in mainstream performances.
If a chasm opens up between the company and its audience, the results can be dire. It is the artistic director’s job to see that it doesn’t happen. The artistic director is not just judged by his peers, he is judged by his audience. It is natural, in times of difficulty, for colleagues to close ranks in support. That may be good for morale, but it has to be recognised for what it is. It should not persuade the director to defer necessary policy change.