June 2008


Please don’t worry if you don’t hear anything out of us for a little bit. We’re packing up and heading on out to the RBMS Preconference in sure-to-be-sunny Los Angeles and then on to Anaheim for the grandeur that is the ALA Annual Conference. Don’t expect any live blogging, but we’ll be sure to fill you in on any sessions, programs or other tidbits that may be of interest to performing arts archives and archivists at some point soon.

Maybe someone will even pick up the slack.

As part of the all-encompassing Jerome Robbins celebration in New York City, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts is hosting an excellent exhibition devoted to Robbins’ life and work. Letters, posters, photos, paintings and drawings (many by Robbins himself), ticket stubs, programs and playbills, costumes, news articles, and a variety of video monitors featuring clips of works by Robbins. It is a tremendous array of materials and, although the maintenance of the exhibit seems to be somewhat troubling (dust may be found in display cases, some description cards are dangling from the wall, and captions are often placed far away from the exhibition pieces), the breadth and scope of the show is quite breathtaking.

The primary focal point for many exhibit-goers (especially dancers, scholars, and dance fanatics) is the bank of six tv monitors, each of which broadcasts a looping series of differing performance or rehearsal or interview clips, making for a kaleidoscope of Robbins images. I found the broadcast of NY Export: Opus Jazz from the “Ed Sullivan Show” (with dancers from Ballets: USA, including the fabulous John Jones and Patricia Dunn) to be especially exciting. And it is also extremely thought-provoking, since the exhibition also includes McCarthy-era newspaper clippings written by Ed Sullivan (in the years prior to the appearance of Ballets: USA on his tv show) that accuse Jerome Robbins of being a Communist sympathizer. Indeed, the exhibition does not shy away from presenting materials related to Robbins’ testimony before the HUAC and the controversy that followed his naming of names.

Also fascinating is the incredible collection of photos, programs, flyers, drawings, and letters that relate to Robbins’ early career with the Federal Dance Project and Gluck-Sandor, as well as his performances at Camp Tamiment. And, of course, his Broadway, Ballet Theatre, and NYC Ballet years are all generously represented (in particular, West Side Story fans will find plenty to keep them busy and happy, as will fans of such wonderful dancers as Tanaquil Le Clercq, Nora Kaye, and Patricia McBride). It is also possible to view a segment from a brand new staging for film of the aforementioned NY Export: Opus Jazz, a project being undertaken by two current NYC Ballet Soloists, Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi (who are acting as co-producers). All-in-all, a must-see.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Jewish Community Center in NYC (on West 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue) will be presenting a Jerome Robbins Celebration this coming Monday, June 23, at 7:00pm. Highlights will include a conversation with Ellen Sorrin and Jock Soto, film clips, and performances by members of the NYC Ballet.

OK, I’m taking liberties here. The Biltmore Garage immortalized in Frank Loesser’s The Oldest Established had nothing to do with the Biltmore Theatre, but I can’t help hearing the song in my head whenever that theatre is mentioned.

Well, soon we probably won’t be hearing the name, “Biltmore Theatre” being spoken of all that often. Today it was announced that the historic venue (which has undergone several dramatic transformations and is currently the home of the Manhattan Theatre Club) would be renamed the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in honor of the legendary press agent (courtesy of a large donation from The Dr. Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Foundation).

We’re somewhat ambivalent about the mania for renaming theatres (and other historic structures). But who knows, if the trend continues, the next thing you know they could be renaming theatres after archivists.

Image credit: Charles Dalton as Darius III and Jessie Royce Landis as Statira in the production, Young Alexander (1929, Biltmore Theatre); NYPL Digital Gallery Image ID #1158019

This year’s wiki is now up and running. Many thanks to all of those whose hard work has made it possible.

It was especially delightful to discover that the complete information for the Performing Arts Roundtable’s meeting (that’s August 27, 2008, 1:00-3:00 PM) is already available online. Please read about it all here.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. SAA now reports that the room block at the conference hotel has sold out. If you are still contemplating attending the annual meeting in San Francisco, you probably should make your arrangements for accommodation as soon as possible.

Image credit: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Digital Collection, California Historical Society, North Baker Research Library, FN-33967

You can prepare by exploring the Tony Legacy section of the official Tony Awards Web site. NPR’s Weekend Edition also had an interesting piece on the excitement of retro Broadway overtures.

With June bustin’ out all over, we would be remiss if we did not mention the upcoming Dance Critics Association conference. This year’s meeting takes place in Washington, D.C. from 13 – 15 June at various venues in the capital city. Timed to coincide with the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America presentations, the conference will offer an abundance of panels, roundtables, and lecture demonstrations. Of special interest to you archivist types, is the 1:30 roundtable on 15 June at the Kennedy Center Terrace, “Keeping Our Diverse Classics On Stage.” Participants include Dawn Lille, Paul Gordon Emerson, Lynn Frielinghaus, Sali Ann Kriegsman, Catherine Turocy, Delphina Parenti and Miyako Nitadori. Reconstructed Michio Ito and Jane Dudley solos will receive live demonstrations and rare Sophie Maslow and tap performances will be screened. You can peruse the complete conference schedule here.

Also during the conference, Washington’s own CityDance Ensemble will be presenting The Songwriters at the Music Center at the Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland on 13 June. This program will feature a reconstruction of Maslow’s Folksay (to the music of Woody Guthrie), as well as Jane Dudley’s classic Harmonica Breakdown (to the music of Sonny Terry). Thank you CityDance Ensemble for reviving these pieces and for using your blog in a such an exciting way to document the process of reconstructing Maslow’s work!