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Oral History Project

Background

The Oral History Project has been a vital part of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division since 1974.  The Project is a distinct, searchable collection of interviews that have been initiated and recorded by the Library in an effort to add to the existing primary source material available to researchers in dance.  Original funders of the Project included the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  This money launched an effort to interview colleagues and associates of eight figures in the dance community: Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Leonid Massine, Alexandra Danilova, Alicia Markova, Ninette de Valois and Lucia Chase.  Over the course of four decades since its initiation, the Project has pursued interviews with choreographers and dancers working in a wide array of genres and styles, dance historians, writers, administrators, technical artists, and collaborative artists.

It is the objective of the Project, existing as it does within the context of the largest library devoted to the art of dance in the world, to address gaps in the documentation of this elusive art form.  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 interviews are created, with an eye toward the Library's existing holdings, as discrete manuscripts to be studied alongside other manuscript materials and documentation of dance in photographs, printed documents and the moving image. 

 

Who Participates

Oral History Recording Room

Criteria for participation in the Project include the individual's significance in the dance community either because of their own work, or because of the proximity of their relationship to an identified subject of interest.  A notable achievement or turning point in an individual's life or the history of an institution is one factor that might cause a subject to be recommended for oral history documentation.  Another important criterion for participation is that the subject matter is at risk in some way due to: age or illness, diminishing participation in a form, archival silences, limited access to media.

Interviewees are informally nominated to the Project Coordinator by members of the dance community.  Often artists who wish to be interviewed have contacted the Coordinator themselves.  All interviews are confidential until they are released by the oral author.  The Project is based in New York, but interviews in other areas can be arranged, often by cooperatively identifying a local interviewer.  This project is still active.  Please do not hesitate to contact the Project Coordinator at dance@nypl.org if you, or someone you know, would like to participate.

 

Special Projects

Aids Oral History Project

In the 1980s and 1990s a major focus of the Dance Division's Oral History Project were the lives and work of dance professionals at risk due to HIV and AIDS.  More than twenty interviews have been recorded and cataloged as part of this effort.  Not all of the oral authors choose to speak about their HIV status or how it affects their careers.  Some do.  The tapes do not make up a separate collection.  They become part of the archive of hundreds of oral histories produced by the Dance Division.

 

Speaking of Dancing Project

Made possible by a generous gift from Anne H. Bass, from 2009-2012 the Oral History Project recorded new interviews with ten prominent figures in the field unified by a focus on the role of interpretation in dancing.  Interpretation, defined most simply as the expression through movement of choreographic ideas, offers so many avenues through which to explore the art of dance, illuminating aspects of the creative process, collaborative relationships and the transmission of choreography from creator to dancer and from dancer to audience.

We have posted excerpts from these interviews on our Dance Oral History Channel.   You can read more about Speaking of Dancing in a blog post from the project coordinator.

 

Access

At the Library for the Performing Arts:

At home:

 

Restrictions

Individual authors may place restrictions on public access to their interview for a specified period of time which will be indicated in the interview’s catalog record.  Restricted, or unrestricted, these materials may not be copied without the written permission of the oral author or their designated legal representative or the Dance Division.

 

Contact 

Oral History Project, Jerome Robbins Dance Division
dance@nypl.org