Preserve: Teaching Archives to Dance Companies
Shepard, John, Fontes Artis Musicae
In the United States in 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation jointly sponsored a study which resulted the next year in a report entitled Images of American Dance: Documenting and Preserving a Cultural Heritage. The report states that the study's purpose was
... to learn what comprises the existing system of dance documentation and preservation, how transactions are conducted within the system, and to what extent the needs of the dance community are being met. By focusing on the needs of users, it was hoped, the study would better equip both the artistic and archival communities in their efforts to build, strengthen and/or extend dance documentation and preservation efforts at the local, regional and national levels, thereby ensuring that the legacy of dance endures. (2)
For the work of the study, the Project Personnel developed sixteen survey questionnaires, tailored to categories of constituents: presenters (that is, impresarios), choreographers, dancers, company managers, institutional archivists, dance scholars, "teachers of the academic aspects of dance," "teachers of the creative aspects of dance," critics, collectors, filmmakers, photographers, creative collaborators (that is, composers, or designers of sets, costumes, or lighting), service organizations or artists' managers, film and video distributors, and programmers of dance related shows on television and radio. (3)
Field researchers in six metropolitan areas used these questionnaires to conduct 160 interviews with individuals and several more meetings with staff of dance festivals, major dance archives, and projects of documenting commercial musical theater. The metropolitan areas were Los Angeles (with an additional field researcher assigned to the Latino dance community), Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. "Two follow-up meetings in New York City and Washington, D.C. during the second phase of the research further tested and elaborated upon the findings....." (4)
As an introduction to the background and rationale for the project, the report makes some statements that remind us both of the state of dance documentation in the U.S. before 1991 and of the nature of dance that makes documentation essential. The report quotes two words from a passage at the opening of the dance critic Marcia Siegel's first book, which deserves to be quoted at greater length. Siegel wrote
Dance exists at a perpetual vanishing point. At the moment of its creation it is gone. All of a dancer's years of training in the studio, all the choreographer's planning, the rehearsals, the coordination of designers, composers, and technicians, the raising of money and the gathering together of an audience, all these are only a preparation for an event that disappears in the very act of materializing. No other art is so hard to catch, so impossible to hold. (5)
The 1991 NEA/Mellon report further asserted that
... dance ... stands as a neglected stepchild vis-a-vis the other art forms. Left out of history books, absent from discussions of aesthetics and philosophy, overlooked by sociologists, ignored by institutions of higher learning, dance as a discipline has been relegated to the margins of serious intellectual interchange in this country. To a large extent, this is because, for much of its history, the dance field has had no easy way of recording itself and has left few legible documents in its wake. Poetry and fiction can be affixed on the printed page; visual art can be set on canvas or in stone; drama can be passed on through scripts; music has a widely understood notational system. But until recently, dance has lacked the means to create tangible, widely accessible records of its history. …
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Publication information: Article title: Preserve: Teaching Archives to Dance Companies. Contributors: Shepard, John - Author. Journal title: Fontes Artis Musicae. Volume: 58. Issue: 2 Publication date: April-June 2011. Page number: 148+. © 2008 International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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