September 2007

Chicago Public LibraryMore about the actual business meeting of the SAA Performing Arts Roundtable some other time. For now, some very brief notes on the program portion of the meeting, which took place on August 29, 2007 at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the meting was the presentation given by our host, Bob Sloane, Head of the Art Information Center of the Chicago Public Library. Bob had put together a compilation of film and video clips, “Chicago Plays a Part in Dance History,” especially for the group. It proved to be an outstanding, extremely well-organized overview of Chicago’s contributions to dance, which covered everything from Little Egypt at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to the very active contemporary dance scene in Chicago. Along the way, we had a chance to see some images from the rare performance films shot by Ann Barzel in Chicago.

After Bob’s talk, those who were able to stay were treated to a tour of the music special collections, including the Chicago Blues Archive, by Christopher Popa and then were taken upstairs to the Special Collections and Preservation Division, where Sarah Welshman had brought out a selection of highlights from the Chicago Theater Collection. Both of our guides were extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their respective collections and I feel sure that all of the attendees left the building feeling very impressed by the beautiful facility and helpful staff of the Chicago Public Library.


That Kazzatsky Dance

We received this announcement today from our friends at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum regarding an upcoming joint program:

SFPALM joins forces with Broadway by the Bay to present a special multimedia event, Irving Berlin’s America. Michael Kantor, who produced and directed the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Broadway: The American Musical and David Leopold, author of Irving Berlin’s Show Business, will discuss how Berlin, through shows like Annie Get Your Gun and songs like God Bless America, helped craft America’s own vision of itself across the 20th century. This lively evening of commentary plus rare slides and thrilling film clips from Berlin’s career will be moderated by SFPALM’s Curator of Exhibitions & Programs, Brad Rosenstein.

Admission is FREE, but seating is limited and reservations are required.
This evening is co-presented with Broadway by the Bay as part of their season-long project, “Jews and the American Musical Theatre,” exploring how and why Jews created and continue to perpetuate this original American art form. Broadway by the Bay’s production of Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun runs September 20-October 7, 2007 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center.

For more information on Jews and the American Musical Theatre:

And do try to stop by SFPALM before it closes its doors to the public for renovation on October 1, 2007. It is scheduled to reopen in March 2008 as the Museum of Performance & Design. We hope to hear more about these developments in the coming months (and to have a chance to visit during the SAA 2008 Annual Conference).

Image credit: NYPL Digital Gallery Image ID# 184949

In today’s New York Sun, dance critic Joel Lobenthal concludes his review of the restored Balanchine Don Quixote film at the New York Public Library by singing the library’s praises (the only critic whom I’ve come across — so far– to explicitly do so):

The Performing Arts library’s restoration of the Balanchine-Farrell “Don Quixote” confirms its status as one of the world’s most important archives of the arts. The library is to be commended for restoring and making available this fascinating and slightly disturbing artifact.

You’ll get no argument here. Check out the rest of the piece in the Sun here (possibly the only time you may ever read that advice in this space) for some other interesting insights.

Still, New York dance history enthusiasts face a difficult choice tomorrow evening, with both the aforementioned Don Quixote film screening at the Lincoln Center NYPL and the latest installment in the History Matters series, “Merce in the 1970s” scheduled to take place just about concurrently. Both events are likely to be SRO (and probably will attract a slighly different crowd).

Meanwhile, as reported recently by the BBC News, a “lost” one act play by Noel Coward, The Better Half, was uncovered by two Welsh scholars while conducting research at the British Library. The text of the play will be published in the late Fall and the work will be performed at the Union Theatre in Southwark, London in October. For a more detailed account, have a look at the British Theatre Guide.

Newberry Library exterior

A recent message from current SAA President Mark Greene promising that SAA Council will strive to become better communicators going forward, reminded me of my own unfulfilled promise to post about my experiences at the annual conference just past. So before the memories fade completely, here is the first in what should be a series of occasional posts on some of the performing arts archives-related events that went on at the 2007 Annual Society of American Archivists meeting in Chicago. I invite anyone who wishes to report on any meetings, tours, programs, or other activities they think may be of interest to contact me via this blog.

As Tuesday, August 28th was a very hot and muggy day in Chicago, it was a relief just to get inside to escape from the heat and humidity for a few hours to take a tour of the Newberry Library. I snapped the not-so-great picture of the front of the building shortly before entering the library — one of the few occasions on this trip that I remembered I was toting a camera while at an “official” SAA event. Unfortunately, I forgot I had my camera with me a few minutes later when I left my bag in one of the lockers (relax, it was still there when I went to retrieve it after the tour), so I do not have any pictures of the interior to share. The tour was led by Martha Briggs and Alison Hinderliter and focused on the Newberry’s extensive manuscript and archival holdings (mainly those materials that form a part of the vast Modern Manuscripts Collection).

We started off with the special collections reading room and then were taken to the work area for an ongoing grant-funded project to process the Newberry’s Journalism collections. While inspecting the stacks, we were shown some of the literary collections that make up the Midwest Manuscripts Collections (not surprisingly the papers of screenwriter, Ben Hecht, is reportedly one of the most heavily-used collections). Giselle Simon also treated us to an intimate look into the Newberry’s impressive conservation department, where much activity was taking place in preparation for several upcoming exhibitions.

Undoubtedly the part of the tour that will be of special interest to performing arts archivists was the chance to see some the Newberry’s wonderful dance collections. Apparently dance was an original part of the Newberry’s institutional collecting mandate, but this policy had been abandoned by the mid-twentieth century. Interest in collecting dance materials was sparked again by the late 1970s, when the pioneering dance critic, Ann Barzel, began donating portions of her large collection to the library. Unique among these materials are silent 16mm films shot by Barzel, which document a variety of individual performers and dance companies (much of the performance footage used in the 2005 documentary Ballet Russes was from such films made by Barzel). A recent collaborative project with the Chicago Public Library has helped to preserve these valuable films and to create access copies in digital format.

Alison, who had processed Barzel’s personal papers, brought out a selection of items from the collection, including one of Anna Pavlova’s pointe shoes, which had been given to Ruth Page in 1917. Also among the highlights was a 1947 letter from Gene Kelly requesting Barzel to send him all of her films for him to study out in Hollywood. Alison also shared a sampling of some of the many dance-related artifacts, such as matchbooks and fans, which had been collected by Barzel over the course of her long and fruitful life.

Many thanks to our helpful hosts for organizing such an interesting tour and much appreciation certainly is owed to the Newberry Library and its hardworking staff for helping to preserve and provide access to these and other cherished pieces of American dance history.

According to this New York Public Library press release, the screening of the restored film of a 1965 live performance of George Balanchine’s Don Quixote is scheduled for Tuesday, June 18th (not the 19th, as previously reported) at 6:00 PM in the Bruno Walter Auditorium of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (good luck finding that information on the calendar at the NYPL Web site). As noted in the press release, all footage from the restored film also will be available for study in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division from September 20, 2007. In the meantime, you can read George Jackson’s account of the Kennedy Center premiere in the current issue of danceviewtimes.

For those of you in the Washington, D.C. area, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will be presenting the world premiere of a newly-restored recording of a 1965 performance of George Balanchine’s Don Quixote on its Millenium Stage at 6:00 this evening. This gala performance of the ballet, in which both Farrell and Balanchine appeared, originally took place on May 27, 1965. In the most recent issue of Suzanne Farrell’s Notes from the Ballet, Farrell discusses the restoration project, undertaken with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Ms. Farrell, along with Jerome Robbins Dance Division Curator, Michelle Potter, will briefly introduce the film at tonight’s screening. The film will be shown again in New York City at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on September 19, 2007. Mark your calendars, New Yorkers!

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