Exploring digitized moving image collections with video tools

A search for dance films in the NYPL Digital Collections interface (in beta).

A search for dance films in the NYPL Digital Collections interface (in beta).

In the past five weeks, I have shifted focus to my DHC practicum. I’m applying my familiarity with the moving image dance archives and awareness of IP rights to my practicum at NYPL Labs. Last year, NYPL embarked on a ground-breaking project to enable online access to the Dance Division’s video collection.  Some of its special features included placing videos side by side (juxtaposition) as well as add content notes (annotation). I am working with NYPL Labs staff to help refine the tool, create juxtaposition “mash-ups” that demonstrate the abilities of the tool and highlight items from the collection, and create a guideline for the creation of mash-ups by curators and other staff personnel. This online digital collections tool gives users control over how they view dance videos, then enables sharing and modification of those viewing experiences.

These dance specific features have been released in the 3rd floor Library for the Performing Arts Reading Room. Additionally, at the SAA Performing Arts Roundtable in New Orleans this year, NYPL’s Eugenia Kim presented a sneak peek of the new digital collections interface for the performing arts community. Members of the performing arts community will be interested to see that faceted browsing of digital dance resources includes separate fields for choreographer, costume designer, artist, writer of accompanying material, videographer, and lighting designer.

Below is one of the sample compositions that I created that features the digitized Bhutanese dance collection in NYPL’s Dance Division. Click on the image to see how the interface works. The video tools interface will officially launch later this year, but in the meantime, you can explore the collection via the new interface, which is currently in beta.

Dances can be studied from different camera angles, giving viewers multiple perspectives.

Dances can be studied from different camera angles, giving viewers multiple perspectives.

Explore more dance from the NYPL Digital Collections interface (beta)

Like the images below? Items for which the Library has permission to show online through this interface can be shared via social media, embedded in webpages, and used to create new learning tools.

Jerome Robbins (the Dance Division’s namesake) during rehearsal for West Side Story with Chita Rivera, Larry Kert, and Carol Lawrence. Click on the image to view still images of Jerry.

Anna Pavlova with her pet swan, Jack. *MGZEA Pavlova, Anna no. 567. Click on the image to see all NYPL Digital Collections items on Pavlova.

Ruth St. Denis in Radha. NYPL catalog ID (B-number) : b12130586. Click the image to explore the entire digitized Denishawn collection.


At Home at SAA


Louis Armstrong Park, formerly known as Beauregard Square, in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans.

I has a great time at SAA in New Orleans this past week! I’ve been to library conferences before, but attending a conference specifically for archives, and one that represent a hugely diverse staff managing unique collections, was really something else. The 2013 DHC fellows had the opportunity to focus on personal areas of interest, as well as attend the Performing Arts Roundtable (PAR). I can’t tell you how gratifying it was just to hear all the projects relating specifically to performing arts archives–I really felt at home. This kind of networking really helped me feel that I was part of a larger community of performing arts archivists. It was also great to have more “face-time” with the other DHC fellows and staff.

Since my schooling is online, I get excited when I meet students or teachers from SJSU in person. I was happy to meet two more teachers–Lori Lindberg and Erin Lawrimore, who are both intelligent, high-achieving powerhouses within SAA. More face-time means that now I feel like I’ve officially met them. And, I was able to chat with some great SJSU alums at the meet-up that SJSU organized.

DHC fellows travel to SAA!

DHC fellows travel to SAA!

DHC also convened a working meeting for the Dance Preservation and Digitization Project (DPDP) in between all the fascinating SAA conference sessions. Partner members and DHC fellows continued working on the development of a platform that could be used by individual dance artists, dance companies, and larger dance collection repositories. This project is a continuation of exploring the issues of moving image records management (and more!) from the Secure Media Network. This is the beauty of the Coalition–when our partner members, fellows, and work events are dispersed across the United States, we convene wherever we are. The SAA New Orleans working meeting followed on the heels of a Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) visit with Sarah Gentile and Sharon Lehner, and serendipitously Sarah was able to join our New Orleans meeting as well.

If you are following all the DHC blogs, you may see this image again, which is courtesy of Elizabeth Hollenbeck–the 2013 DHC Fellows at SAA’s Performing Arts Roundtable.

Next up: more details about my practicum…

NYPL’s Dance Collection: Looking Back

Agnes de Mille, whom Genevieve Oswald considered “a born archivist.”

The New York Public Library is the second largest library in the United States, only behind the Library of Congress. My DHC fellowship project environment is a large institutional setting with multiple divisions and groups. In my work at the Dance Division, I work with curators, the NYPL rights analyst, the web/information technology group, and moving image preservationists. Additionally, my project relies on the work of staff members in special formats processing, cataloging, NYPL Labs, off-site storage facilities, and the video playback room. Recently, I had the chance to visit PAMI (preservation of audio and moving image) and NYPL Labs.

Although NYPL today is this sprawling, vast institution, I was brought back to ground zero of the dance division this week with a beautifully written, nearly 40-page article from Dance Chronicle on Genevieve Oswald,1 who founded and shaped NYPL’s dance collection and archive when she was hired in 1947. The article provides insight on why American modern dance became a formative influence of the collection, how personal rivalries between dance companies interfered with documentation and collection, some insecurities artists had with their work being discovered and researched, and how Oswald helped choreographers understand the invaluable service that libraries provide in research and reference. I learned that in addition to donations made by individual artists, Lincoln Kirstein’s 1941 initiative to create a repository and center for dance research didn’t pick up enough support, so these materials were donated to the NYPL’s quickly growing collection.

Alvin Ailey: “I am black, but you know I am a dancer first.” Photo by Normand Maxon may be subject to copyright.

Oswald spent much of her time cultivating relationships with collectors and artists of the dance community and this article presents some great quotes regarding celebrated American choreographers. I love the quote by Ailey, who when deciding whether to leave his material to the Dance Collection or NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture said, “Well, I am black, but you know I am a dancer first.” Oswald reflects that Agnes de Mille “was a born archivist.” Before dancers had their own ad hoc learn-from-video sessions in company rehearsal, the public library would serve as their study room as in the case of Antony Tudor sending Natalia Makarova to watch his dance works on film prior to joining American Ballet Theatre.

This article is full of the unique stories from the early days of NYPL’s Dance Division, and walks through the development of this world-class establishment in which the dance community can and does take pride in. This article is a must read for any dancer or dance enthusiast!

1Lynn Matluck Brooks (2011): A Bold Step Forward: Genevieve Oswald and the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library, Dance Chronicle, 34:3, 447-486

Original Documentations Program at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division

Lilac Garden (photo by Roger Wood). Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden is represented in the Original Documentations Program with performance recordings from 1972, 2000, and 2008.

I’ve been at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for four weeks now, working with the Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image recordings. My time here will be spent developing a new main page for the Moving Image Archive, including a “dance channel” of performance clips from the Dance Division’s Original Documentations Program. Each year, since 1967, the program documents a selection of live dance performance and dance related discussions for inclusion in the Archive. The Original Documentations Program’s mission is to record dance from the collective majesty of performances seen each year, mostly from New York City, and to preserve and make accessible these recordings. Visitors to the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center can watch seemingly endless hours of dance recordings—over 23,000 dance recordings—in a controlled environment, where the use of the materials is supervised and no image or video capture is allowed. For those who do not live near the Lincoln Center Library Research Center, the Dance Division’s world class archival moving image collection’s new “dance channel” will allow access to selected dance clips. Distance researchers and patrons will be able to get a glimpse of the works recorded with the online dance channel’s selection of works. Public access to these professional recordings is possible after other important work of the archive has been completed, including the creation of a preservation copy which is then moved to secure off-site storage or Trusted Repository for digital files.

In most cases, the archive holds the physical property, but not the rights, of its materials. The recording of dance performances contains many artistic credits, so in order to make selections of dance performances available online, I am researching the paperwork and content of past recordings to propose titles for possible wider access. The rights to each dance piece may be different, even if they are performed by the same company, and at the same theater. I rely on the experience and knowledge of my librarian/archivist colleagues at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division and the Library’s rights clearance analyst. They hold institutional memory of the original documentations project from working with the artists, company representation, theaters, and unions.

Watching dance recordings from the archives has been especially enjoyable. When I went through the chronology of original documentation recordings, many significant names popped up. The number of diverse dance performances that are shown in New York each season is amazing. Once I started watching recordings, the significance only deepened and I enjoyed the variety of dance titles I had chosen to start with: Doug Varone’s Rise, Hae Kyung Lee’s Silent Flight, Errol Grimes’ Deep Grammar, Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa, and STREB Extreme Action Company’s Fly. Unfortunately reviewing the over two thousand Original Documentations Program recordings is not part of the scope of my project, but I am enjoying what I do watch!

Behind the scenes at NYPL’s Dance Division

My first day at the NYPL included a tour of the Library for the Performing Arts (LPA) branch. The library joins the other grandiose buildings in Lincoln Center Plaza: the New York State Theater, The Metropolitan Opera building, the New York Philharmonic, and the Vivian Beaumont Theater. A reflecting pool, tree grove, water fountain, and gelato carts are just outside in the plaza. The LPA houses the theater, music, and dance divisions which offer circulating and research collections, archives, listening and watching stations, and public programs. Never a dull moment here. On my way back to my cubicle, I pass shelves of manuscript collections, film reels, and donations of dance materials. Here are a few fun things I snapped photos of:

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Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Zvidance, dabke, symbiosis

Yesterday was my day of Zvi. Greek food in Astoria and a visit to the Museum of Moving Image were bookended by artistic exploration orchestrated by Mr. Zvi Gothenier. Morning ballet class at City Center (which is thankfully taught by Zvi consistently six days a week) was accompanied by a surprise guest—cellist Chris Lancaster. The pianists who play for class are in a league of their own, but the soaring, contemporary melodies on the amplified cello were a special treat. At night I watched the final performance of the Musa! two-week music and dance festival at Baruch College—a fabulous performance with two pieces by Zvi Gothenier: the world premiere of Sky and Water, and Dabke.

Dabke was a gathering of unique artists creating something polished, thematic, and connected. In Dabke, I enjoyed the individuality of each performer’s movement and message, and still the piece was presented as a coherent work. I saw the dancers share their explorations on stage, and saw the symbiosis of sorts between dancer and choreographer. Each dancer’s movement was better seen within the piece, and the piece was made better by their dancing. In the program, the dancers mentioned the company as a family and I saw the equality in these relationships onstage. It is commonly said that friends are your family of choice. The same is for freelance dancers who may band together in dance families—the association is by choice. Working with artists with similar outlooks, aptitudes, and working styles can really bring out the best in both performer and choreographer. Ying-Ying Shiau, Todd Allen, and William Tomaskovic’s standout performances fulfilled me and gave me what I look for in performances more and more these days—new things, not just unique movement sequences (although there were many in Zvi’s choreography and partnering), but unique messages that can only be delivered with idiosyncratic voices and artistic choices.

Zvi’s note in the program talked about dabke, which is a Middle Eastern folk dance that was the inspiration for this work. However, his research process continued online, with searches for dabke on YouTube. No judgement, everyone knows YouTube is just. . .  there. Many library and archives have to compete with the instant availability of resources online, while they themselves safeguard hundreds of thousands of materials and comply with the many restrictions of use. When I watch the original documentation recordings at the New York Public Library, I have the benefit of reaching back through the decades of dance in NYC to watch a performance with all its associated metadata, or description. Part of the authoritative record of the performance is documenting where the performance was shown, and the names of the associated artists. Giving the performance a place and context provides more knowledge of how the piece was developed, and similarly, how the dance scene in New York developed because of that dance in relationship with many other moving parts. Additionally, these performances, which, because they are from the 60’s moving forward, are in disparate moving image formats, and the NYPL depends on its preservation department to handle, rehouse, and store moving image  in a wide variety of formats. Working in the Library for the Performing Arts (LPA), each day I go through the research collections and special collections on the third floor of the LPA and I see how often the research and archival materials are used. I personally love the availability of the A/V playback machines. I sit comfortably at the viewing stations on the third floor and ask a machine operator to load my selections, or pop in the next disk. As the controller of the playback machine, I am oblivious to the different video formats that the library houses, all I know is continuous and uninterrupted service. Pretty fabulous, right? I have to admit that the disk drive on my Mac has been out of commission for months, and like many users, all I have is the Internet for personal use, but with the work happening at the LPA, I can take advantage of resources in multiple formats without having to own or take care of the machines for myself.

Experiencing dance can be a multifaceted affair. Seeing performances in New York introduces me to dance “families” and the archival collections at the NYPL dance division lets me know their roots.

The lineage of dance, in a beautifully tangled web

So I’m back in New York, having previously lived here for five years as a performing artist. Yes, I have scoured the dance (and museum/music) calendars! Went to Rain Room at MOMA, checked out the Punk exhibit at The Met Museum, and enjoyed Calexico playing at the Prospect Park bandshell. Took some dance classes and will see some dance in the coming week.

Today I got an introduction to one aspect of the moving image archive at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division—the original documentation (OrigiDocs) program. Since 1967, this program has recorded over 2500 dance performances in a wide variety of styles.1 The selections from 2012 were recorded at Danspace, the Metropolitan Opera House, Abrons Arts Center, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and others, and each these spaces are equally important in the artistic works they present, and the styles they connotate, year after year.

When I seek out a performance, I already have a sense of that person’s work in my mind and acknowledge them as an individual. They have left an impression on my mind with their unique work. Even though I am aware of their lineage, I am not often reminded of it, as I was while documenting information for the OrigiDocs program. Yes, now Robert Battle is artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), and has incorporated many of his works in to the company’s repertory. Before that, he had his own company, Battleworks, before that, he was a member of Parsons Dance Company. Before that, he was trained at The Juilliard School and Miami’s New World School for the Arts. Each of these were hubs where Battle knew and worked with other contemporary artists. Along the way, like all artists, Battle must have sought out inspiration in many other areas, and explored his art on his own as well.

One of my current favorite artists, Antwerp-born Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, has such an interdisciplinary style that it seems so versatile, but still recognizably styled. His lineage is rooted in hip-hop music videos that he watched growing up, but he also studied at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s dance school. His own choreographic style is said to fuse hip hop, modern, jazz, ballet, Irish, African and kathak2 (influences of kathak were used in his collaboration with Akhram Khan—I loved this performance years back at NY City Center). He was also raised in a strict Muslim upbringing.3 I am sure that I am not aware of all these facts as I see a performance, but it intrigues me to try to know how all the influences, can make the lineage of a choreographer.

Lineage can only be seen when looking back. When artists create dance, the documentation of it in current time places markers for us to know that there was so much more going on, and there is so much to explore and know. Any point of a choreographer’s lineage—a collaboration, a name, a school—can be exploded to a hundred more interesting connections. Dance works are inherently tied to theater, music, and art elements. I see the linked data semantic web in my brain. You could play the six degrees of separation game between artists, topics, and styles. The beauty of it is that dance is still being created—there can be a connection if there isn’t one already. The decades of documented performances the Jerome Robbins Moving Image Archive is a research and reference tool to help us remember this lineage and web of dance. Not only can we know the names, we can see the movements and have them speak to us. Recordings are available to view onsite in their third floor reading room—try this list to start! The home season of Battle’s first year as artistic director of AAADT is available. Listen to or read an interview transcript for a description of it in Battle’s own words.

1 http://static.nypl.org/LPA/Annual_Report_FY_12_Dance.pdf

2 http://www.artsalive.ca/en/dan/meet/bios/artistDetail.asp?artistID=144

3 http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2005/jul/12/theatre.dance

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