Worldwide it is quite usual for major opera houses and some national theatres to set up their own archives. These usually include information on the building and running of the theatres as well as the full range of events performed within their auditoria. Such important collections can be found at the Paris Opéra, 1 La Scala, Milan 2 and the Royal Theatres of Stockholm and Copenhagen. 3 In London the Royal Opera House, in Covent Garden, established its own archive in the 1950s. This preserves archival material on the Royal Ballet, particularly since 1946 when it became resident there. 4 It is less usual to find archives in dance companies which lack a permanent theatre-base. Those that have established archives include the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in the United States; 5 the National Ballet of Canada; 6 and the Australian Ballet.
In the past decade British theatre dance companies have taken a new interest in their individual heritage and developed a concern for record-keeping in a way hitherto neglected. Indeed any survey of the main resources for dance in Britain now has to take note of company archives as well as collections in libraries, museums and other centres. These very specific archives usually complement national collections although in Britain their establishment was certainly accelerated by the delay in the full opening of the Theatre Museum, the National Museum of the Performing Arts, which is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 7
A company archive is generally more comprehensive in terms of that particular company’s work than any national, university or private collection could hope to be, simply because it gathers material at source as it is generated. It does, however, depend on an active archivist to keep its records up to date. The usually precarious existence of any dance company dictates that concern for the future rather than the past tends to take priority and, where no one is responsible for keeping the records, much material is of necessity dispersed. As companies move from one base to another, accumulated papers which are perceived to be of no immediate value are often discarded, the last poster, programme or photograph for a production is given away simply in response to demand. It was because these problems were recognized that two leading British companies, English National Ballet and Rambert Dance Company, established their archives in 1975 and 1982 respectively.