December 2007

Here’s some holiday cheer for you. Yesterday it was announced that Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic will be partnering with several other organizations to present an ambitious festival late next year in commemoration of the 90th birthday of Leonard Bernstein (among other things). Dubbed, Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds, the festival will run from 24 September – 13 December 2008 and will feature 30 events (some of which will incorporate archival materials) in seven different venues in New York City.

Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein (with Carol Lawrence in background) instructing cast during rehearsal for West Side Story;

Image credit: NYPL Digital Image ID# psnypl_the_4936


Not to be too Northeast-centric, but here are a couple of upcoming programs for which you might want to make plans if you are going to be in the area during January 2008.

Tickets will go on sale soon (indeed they probably are already available full price at the Walter Reade Theater box office) for the annual Dance on Camera Festival in New York. Of special interest to the balletomanes in our midst (and most likely to draw on archival footage) are the films in Program 3 (or, in case you were wondering what to get your friendly blogger for the holidays…).

For those of you still contemplating whether or not to brave the carnival that is ALA Midwinter 2008 in Philadelphia, the opportunity to participate in a special focus group before the conference proper begins might hasten your decision making. The following announcement was sent out on the Dance Librarians Discussion Group listserv a few days back:

Subject: “Fair Use” Applications for Dance Collections – a focus group
Day/Time: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, January 11.
Place: Philadelphia Dance Collection, Paley Library Rare Book Room, Temple University

The Dance Heritage Coalition is organizing a number of regional focus groups to get broader input from the archival field on ways that copyrights impinge on the cultural and educational missions of libraries and archives. We’re sponsoring a project that seeks to define “fair use” within the context of the missions of dance archives and collections. Our intention is not to rewrite copyright law, but rather to define how fair use could be employed in a way that balances the rightsholders’ privileges with the cultural missions of libraries. The “fair use” project of the documentary filmmakers led to a consensus and a published document in November 2005, and there is already evidence that their project has had a positive impact on the documentary-making field.

The DHC has engaged copyright attorney Professor Peter Jaszi of American University, who successfully facilitated the process on behalf of the documentary filmmakers, to facilitate and advise this project on dance collections. We are planning a focus group for the Friday of the ALA meeting in Philadelphia (that is, 11:30 a.m. on Friday, January 11, 2008). Lunch will be provided.

Mary Edsall Choquette has arranged for us to use meeting space in the Reading Room of Temple University’s Special Collections, home to the Philadelphia Dance Collection. Concurrently the Philadelphia Dance Collection will be hosting an exhibition from its holdings, so the focus group meeting will also include a chance to see the Philadelphia Dance Collection that she founded. The focus group will conclude around 3 p.m., with plenty of time to return to the convention center for the ALA opening events.

The Paley Library at Temple is easily accessible by subway or cab from the downtown ALA convention location by traveling north on Broad Street. Additional directions will be sent to those interested.

Please notify your intention to attend by emailing Libby Smigel, DHC project director and coordinator of the “fair use” project: She can also answer any questions you may have.
For further information on the Philadelphia Dance Archive at Temple, see

NOTE: This pre-conference event does NOT supersede the usual meeting and discussion of the DLDG at the ALA.

dr_evil.jpgOnce again the New York Sun reported it first, but today’s New York Times “Arts, Briefly” column also notes that the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has received a grant of $1 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The grant, which begins on 1 February 2008 and runs through 31 January 2010, will help to document 25 live jazz, theater, and contemporary dance performances, as well as to preserve oral history tapes relating to Martha Graham.

This morning brings news reports of another important performing arts archival acquisition. The British Library has purchased the complete archive of playwright Harold Pinter for £1.1 million. The complete text of the BL press release may be read here.

It is instructive to note the different manner in which the story has been covered in Great Britain and the United States respectively, with the Guardian being representative of the former and the New York Times of the latter. The Guardian emphasizes the heroic efforts that went into “saving” the collection for a (presumably grateful) nation, while the NYT blandly, but decisively, eliminates any such display of emotion and only includes the story in its “Arts, Briefly” section.

John McMartin and Norbert Leo Butz

Now that the Broadway stagehands’ strike is history, another feel good archives story has emerged just in time for the holidays. Or is it really a feel good story for archives, after all?

Yesterday saw the Broadway premiere of an adaptation of a previously unperformed and unpublished play by Mark Twain, Is He Dead? (circa 1898). As widely reported, the manuscript was “rediscovered” by scholar, Shelly Fisher Fishkin at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library several years ago. An illustrated edition of the Twain text was published by the University of California Press in 2003 as part of its Jumping Frog series. Now, a new version of the play, adapted by that resurrection specialist, David Ives, of Encores! fame (many of you may have heard him as a panelist at the Theatre Library Association’s Performance Reclamation symposium last February), has opened to largely positive reviews at New York’s Lyceum Theatre.

While the resultant good publicity may generate a few more sales of the book and perhaps some additional donations to the Bancroft’s worthy Mark Twain Papers and Project and Mark Twain Project Online, so far, no one has bothered to thank the archivists for preserving and providing access to the original material.

Image credit: John McMartin and Norbert Leo Butz in Is He Dead?; photograph by Joan Marcus (from the show’s official Web site).

At the invitation of your usual archivist, I offer the following post which first appeared on an internal blogsite at The New York Public Library.

The summer 2007 exhibit at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (LPA) was entitled “Invention: Merce Cunningham and Collaborators.”As it was coming to a close, I was reminded of one of its planning meetings. The discussion centered on the explanatory texts that accompany any museum exhibition. Members of the Cunningham Foundation wanted to dispense with such texts. When told that the lack of explanatory notes might cause people to exit the exhibit hastily, they responded “That’s ok – people walk out of Merce’s performances all the time.” Rather, they wanted an experience unburdened with so much reading, so that when entering the exhibit, people would be visually and spacially immersed in the world of Merce Cunningham and his work.

It turned out to be one of the most memorable exhibits I’ve seen at LPA. Among the many unique aspects of the exhibit were the associated performances. They weren’t done in the auditorium, but were performed in the exhibit itself. One of them, a dance work Cunningham choreographed expressly for this exhibit, was performed several times the exhibit entrance.

Each of four performers did solos…

Then duos…

Finally all four peformed together.

Curtain calls (without a curtain).

In addition, pianist Nurit Tilles performed John Cage’s Sonatas
and Interludes on a prepared piano.

First, Nurit gave a brief talk.

Then she played the entire 70 minute work (with a short break in the middle).

The audience was held in rapture.

The lack of adequate seating (folding chairs) was hardly
a deterrent for those who wanted to be part of the experience.

People listened, as Jasper Johns’s costumes loomed on the south wall.

Meanwhile students took notes on music that might alienate some listeners.

I remember few exhibits that had performances done right in the exhibit. I thought it was great idea! It offered a particularly intimate way to connect with the subject and his materials, and the public could lounge on the floor (or on their knapsacks) so that they could make themselves comfortable as they take in the experience.

The success of this exhibit challenges us to think of archives in a pro-
active manner. That’s what an exhibit — and an archives — should be!