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About the Jerome Robbins Dance Division
Phone: (212) 870-1657
Fully accessible to wheelchairs
The Jerome Robbins Dance Division of The New York Public Library is the largest and most comprehensive archive in the world devoted to the documentation of dance. Chronicling the art of dance in all its manifestations - ballet, ethnic, modern, social, and folk - the division is much more than a library in the usual sense of the word. It is part museum, part film production center, and part consulting service to the professional dance community. It preserves the history of dance by gathering diverse written, visual, and aural resources, and it works to ensure the art form's continuity through an active documentation program.
Founded in 1944 as a separate division of The New York Public Library, the Dance Division is used regularly by choreographers, dancers, critics, historians, journalists, publicists, filmmakers, graphic artists, students, and the general public. Working with the division's vast resources, a user can reconstruct an Elizabethan court dance, a 19th-century Italian tarantella, or a 20th-century Ceylonese devil dance; determine what makeup Nijinsky wore in Scheherazade; learn the problems Picasso faced in working on the ballet Parade from letters in his own hand; compare the modern dance styles of Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey, or research hip hop and breakdancing.
While the division contains more than 44,000 books about dance, these account for only a small percent of its vast holdings. Other resources available for study free of charge include moving image records, audiotapes, clippings and program files, prints and designs, and manuscripts.
Manuscripts and Finding Aids
The Jerome Robbins Dance Division’s archival manuscript collections reflect twentieth century development in dance, from the materials of Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, and Ted Shawn to the records of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and American Ballet Theatre, and to the development of the quintessentially American dance form, modern dance. The latter includes the papers of Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, the Grand Union, Daniel Nagrin, and the records of the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Other collections include dance luminaries such as Agnes de Mille, Lincoln Kirstein, John Martins, Ruth Page, and our namesake, Jerome Robbins.
More than 1 million manuscript items, ranging from choreographic notes and diaries to contracts and financial records of major companies, provide vivid details about the history of dance. Such rarities as an early dance treatise by the Italian-Jewish dancing master Giorgio Ebreo and Madame Pompadour's personal copy of libretti for divertissements performed at Versailles for Louis XV exemplify the division's rich resources.
Iconography, Prints, and Designs
Prints, original designs, posters, and photographs—from Mary Wigman's design for her own production of Le Sacre du Printemps, to renderings by artists such as de Chirico, Bakst, Chagall, and Noguchi—provide rich insights into details of costume and set design, as well as performance style.
The Dance Division is in the process of digitizing its public domain prints. There are now over a thousand works available on the Digital Collections site for Prints Depicting Dance. These works, which originally appeared in newspapers, books, sheet music covers, or as individual prints or designs, portray a range of performances, set designs, and dancers, both notable and lesser-known, from the 17th century through the early 20th century.
Books, Rare Books and Journals
The Dance Division has over 44,000 books, including rare books from the last five centuries. There are over 100,000 indexed articles and nearly one hundred journals.
Clipping and Program Files
Articles culled from hundreds of American and foreign newspapers and arranged under easily accessible subject headings create thousands of clipping files. These, with program files, substantially simplify the process of primary-source research.
JEROME ROBBINS ARCHIVE OF THE RECORDED MOVING IMAGE
The Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image, the film and videotape archive of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division began when the Lincoln Center Research Library opened in 1965, with six cans of film donated by the choreographer Jerome Robbins and a gift of a small percentage of his royalties as author of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Creating a moving image archive of dance records involves not only acquiring collections by generating relationships with donors, but also preserving those materials and cataloging and making them accessible to the public.
NEW DIGITAL DANCE VIDEO SITE
Since Jerome Robbins Dance Division’s Archive of the Recorded Moving Image received those six cans of film donated in 1965, the archive has grown to over 25,000 titles of film and video. In 2014, The New York Public Library’s (NYPL) grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation transformed the Library’s ability to serve our audio and moving image collections. The result of this work was the simple, yet powerful, viewing platform, found here: http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/dancevideo
The Dance Division’s newly-acquired moving image collections are now preserved and delivered as digital files. As they are preserved and cataloged, these materials become available for immediate viewing. A few examples of such new collections include the Mikhail Baryshnikov Archive, which contains approximately over 400 videos; the Ronald K. Brown Video Archive, with approximately 62 videos; and the Merce Cunningham Archive, which contains over 580 records in the Digital Collections site.
Legacy collections also need preservation and migration. These include 162 of the Dance Division’s camera original recordings of the New York City Ballet’s performances in 1993, called the Balanchine Celebration, and 78 camera originals from 1990 performances during the New York City Ballet's Festival of Jerome Robbins' Ballets. All of these wide- and close-shot recordings were unedited at the request of the choreographers, and the Library’s new interface has the capacity for a user to view these wide-shots at the same time as the close-shots.
Other legacy collections include more than 60 films from the collection of Victor Jessen, who surreptitiously recorded various ballet companies in performance in the 1940s and 1950s. He recorded these performances on a wind-up 16mm camera, which only captured a few minutes at a time, so he returned multiple times to the performances (even as the casts varied) to capture the entire dance work. In the New York Times on August 28, 2013, Alastair Macaulay wrote, "In recent years, Jessen’s vast film legacy — legal problems kept much of it secret long after his death — has not only come to light, but it has been digitized. Thanks to him, you can see Danilova and other ballerinas in the 1940s in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo three-act productions of ‘Raymonda’ and ‘Coppélia.’”
Although the recordings above may only be viewed within the walls of the Library, a growing subset of the Dance Division’s collection can be viewed without restrictions on the Internet. The Khmer Dance Project (KDP), for example, contains nine performances and rehearsals of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, and over 40 interview recordings from Cambodia--all of which are freely-available on the Library’s public site. The KDP was launched in 2008 when the Center for Khmer Studies partnered with the Dance Division to interview and film the three generations of artists (including dancers, musicians and singers, as well as embroiderers and dressers), who kept dance alive during and in the wake of the Khmer Rouge regime. Funded by a grant from the Anne Hendricks Bass Foundation, the resulting videos have greatly expanded upon existing knowledge and awareness of this endangered and celebrated art form.
Other open-access collections include more than 300 hours of video of dance from the Kingdom of Bhutan, a result of the Dance Division’s partnership with Core of Culture on its project to record and preserve Bhutan’s disappearing dance traditions; videos from the Dance Division's Original Documentation Program, a project to record live dance performances, which features modern dancers and companies such as Eiko & Koma, Amy Sue Rosen, and Carolina Ballet; early films, such as the hand-colored 1897 film, titled Annabella, by Thomas Edison; and five videotaped Speaking of Dancing interviews with Wendy Whelan, Julie Kent, Kevin McKenzie, Alastair Macaulay, and Ethan Stiefel.
DANCE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTATIONS
The Dance Division also has a program to create oral history recordings and original documentations of live dance performances. Through these in-house efforts of original documentation, our Moving Image Archive has created and added to its collections over 2,600 dance works.
When we record with two cameras the wide camera stays wide enough to always capture the entrances and exits. The second camera captures smaller groups, duets, and solos, leaving enough room around the performers to not loose hands or feet so that dancers do not unexpectedly leap out of frame. An aspect that is often forgotten is the next step of editing the dance work. In 1998, the Dance Division received a grant funded by the National Initiative to Preserve America’s Dance, to study how choreographers and videographer/editors worked together on the editing aspect of a recording. Out of that grant came a document titled: The Collaborative Editing Project to Document Dance, which is available on the Dance Division’s website. http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/collaborativeeditingproject.pdf
In this grant the Dance Division undertook to examine the process of collaborative editing for dance documentation. One thing was made clear: the collaboration begins before the recording takes place with an interaction between the choreographer and videographer in planning how to record, when and where to record and for what purpose. This way, with the choreographer actively participating in the editing process, the result becomes an even clearer record of the choreographer’s intentions.
Dance Oral History Project and Audio Collections
The Oral History Project and Archive have been a vital part of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of Tthe New York Public Library since 1974. Consisting of more than 4,000 diverse audio recordings, the Archive documents the voices and ideas of more than half a century of performers, choreographers, scholars, and producers, working in all areas of dance. These audio recordings include research interviews, radio broadcasts of dance related programming, panel talks, classes, public lectures, and dance awards programs in addition to the Dance Division’s ongoing program to create oral history interviews. The Dance Oral History Project is a collection of over 500 in-depth interviews within the Archive that have been initiated and recorded by the Library. Audio interviews, which can often be more revealing than edited and published memoirs, bring to life the personalities and forces that shape the course of dance history. The Project has pursued interviews with choreographers, dancers, technical artists, composers, dance historians, teachers, writers, and administrators working in a wide array of genres and styles in dance. During the 1980s and 1990s a major focus of the Dance Collection's Oral History Project was the lives and work of dance professionals with HIV and AIDS. Recent Oral History Project recordings are available for web streaming on the Dance Oral History Channel.