The Crisis in Dance Documentation
In 1994 a San Francisco Bay Area Consortium of archivists, videomakers and presenters received a NIPAD grant to develop strategies, technologies and standards for the effective preservation of dance on video, and to make the resulting documentation accessible to the dance and video communities and the general public. While dance documentation exists in many forms including nota-tion, still photography, and the written word, video presents a particularly appropriate and effective medium forimproving both the breadth and depth of the historical record. The pilot project, titled Learning Applications to Document Dance (LADD), focused on improving the quality and accessibility of video documentation of dance through training and the dissemination of information while simultaneously creating a sustainable community infrastructure to serve Bay Area dance companiesí future preservation and documentation needs. The San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum (PALM), the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), Theater Artaud and World Arts West (WAW) joined forces to forge an alliance between the video and dance communities so that together they could establish a discipline of documentation that would preserve the creative intent of the artist as well as a moving record of the performance.
LADD Consortium Partners
PALM served as the LADD fiscal coordinator and archivist, acting as a repository for all documents, video and otherwise, produced during the project. These tapes and all other materials are accessible to the public on-site and are not circulated. BAVC provided the video equipment and the technical resources and knowledge for the LADD training program as well as offering video community contacts. Bay Area presenters Theater Artaud and World Arts West offered access to their existing programmatic activities, artist roster, and performance facilities, insuring a broad spectrum of dance artists and performance environments from which specific video challenges could be chosen for training and documentary purposes.
The San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum (PALM)
Founded in 1976 on the private collection of dance/designer Russell Hartley (1922-1983), PALM is a nationally-recognized resource on the history of the performing arts with a special emphasis on the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the present. PALM houses the largest performing arts history collection in the Western U.S., most of which are dance-related materials. PALM has played an active role in preserving the regionís dance heritage, preserving collections of the San Francisco Ballet, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, the Legacy Project (an oral history project to preserve the artistic legacies of individuals in the Bay Area dance community that are at risk), Dance Bay Area, and artists such as Isadora Duncan and Lew Christensen. PALM is also a member of the Dance Heritage Coalition, a national program designed to address dance documentation and preservation issues, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC)
BAVC has over 20 years of experience serving the arts sector with video and new technology tools and training. The largest member-supported, nonprofit video arts center in the country, BAVC boasts over 2,000 members, representing the most innovative independent producers, computer programmers, engineers and artists nationwide. Video and multimedia projects produced at BAVC have won every major media award, including the Academy Award, and appear on PBS, in modern art museums, and in all major festivals. BAVC has a broadcast-level, installed equipment base, which includes a Betacam SP field package, a state-of-the-art digital component online with Digital Betacam, Betacam SP, 3/4î SP, S-VHS and Hi-8, as well as multimedia and digital audio workstations. BAVC offers 200 hands-on technical workshops annually in addition to presenting large-format seminars on special topics such as multimedia, digital editing, and computer graphics. In addition to the Dance Documentation Fellowship, BAVC supports similar programs such as the Interact Program for multimedia training. BAVC is a pioneer in the field of video preservation, developing the technologies to insure that artist works from the 1970s and 1980s will survive to the next generation of media and setting future standards of video preservation and documentation.
Theater Artaud is one of the Bay Areaís instrumental venues for contemporary dance and performance. Each year Theater Artaud is home to 35-40 productions and offers support services, training, and technical assistance to artists, complete with youth programs, artist residencies and community partnerships. The Theater has taken an active role in documenting the artists it presents and has compiled written and visual materials from contemporary and experimental dance and theater presentations for the past 20 years. Video documentation is created for many Theater presentations and productions, in accordance with the artistís/companyís awareness of the disciplineís documentation needs and its access to financial and technical resources. Every possible effort is made to create audio and video documentation of residency activities such as community forums, educational activities, and symposia. Many of the Theaterís artists use videotaping as part of the creative process to develop work, and/or as part of the contextual information in lobby installations. Video documentation of high quality has become an increasingly important component of informing the media in the Theaterís publicity campaigns. The Theater sends video documentation and written background materials to critics in advance of performances facilitating interviews and advance stories and serving as an educational tool. The Theater has also compiled a library of videotapes of artists performing in the venue. These videotapes are shared at conferences and used to provide colleagues with work samples of artists they may be interested in booking.
World Arts West (WAW)
World Arts West (formerly City Celebration) presents and promotes world dance and music that reflects Americaís diversity. WAW produces performances as well as educational and cultural exchange programs, including the acclaimed, 19-year-old San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Programming for the Festival is derived from live and videotaped auditions of Northern California artists which include community and church groups, master soloists, and professional performance ensembles. WAW employs video in a wide variety of ways, which include taping the Festival from the auditions through the performances, and viewing video as part of the artist selection process. The video footage created is archived at PALM and used as the basis for media publicity. Educational programs supplementing the performances are essential to the Festivalís mission. In addition to compiling extensive video documentation, WAW produces a 40-70 page program book for the Festival which contains information researched by the staff to educate the audiences about each company and the cultural and social legacy behind each dance form presented. Festival Symposia address subjects such as authenticity, traditions out of context and the politics of ethnic dance, delving deeply into issues concerned with the meaning and impact of world dance and culture. When possible, an emphasis is placed on cultures that are traditionally under-represented in the public arena, such as dances from Tibet, Bosnia and Uzbekistan. Festival public forums are routinely video and audio taped and then transcribed at a later date.
Documenting Ethnic and Contemporary Dance
The San Francisco Bay Area Dance Community
The Consortium members are deeply rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area, historically one of the nationís most racially, ethnically, politically, socially, culturally and generationally diverse areas. The demographic and cultural diversity of the Bay Area is, as one would expect, reflected in its equally
1 The use of broad classifications of dance, such as ìethnicî and ìcontemporary,î brings up questions of what is includ-ed and excluded by these categorizations.
vibrant dance scene, the second largest in the U.S. In assessing the current state of dance docu-mentation in the Bay Area, the Consortium members found that ìethnicî and ìcontemporaryî dance forms were underserved and underrepresented, if represented at all, in the historical video record. Recognizing the reasons for these gaps, the Consortium chose to focus on the specific documen-tary complexities and challenges posed by ethnic and contemporary dance forms.
The Documentary Challenges of Ethnic and Contemporary Dance
The lines distinguishing ethnic from contemporary dance are increasingly becoming blurred. 1 For the purposes of this report, the term ìethnic danceî 2 will be used to refer to forms of dance which are deeply rooted in a specific cultural tradition. Ethnic dance is most often performed by a commu-nity of people or individual persons who come from a specific culture or have a strong alliance with that culture in some way. The work itself is often traditional in that it may be passed down orally and kinesthetically from one generation to another, or it may be a recreation of a traditional dance style or choreography. Ethnic dance may also be a contemporary creation based on traditional themes or sensibilities. Contemporary work, simply defined, is original dance that is being created today. Often, it is created by an individual choreographer. Contemporary dance, which is commonly inspired by current political, social, cultural and artistic trends, often utilizes or incorporates the dance technique or choreographic conventions of the European-American modern dance lineage. Contemporary dance works are increasingly created by ethnically diverse artists, and increasingly reflect the cultural diversity of our communities.
2 The term ìethnic danceî means many different things to many different people. In the past and still some today, it has referred to non-Western ìartî dance, whereas ìfolk danceî has referred to Euro-American vernacular forms. A more contemporary definition is ìEthnic dance is dance which embodies the values and beliefs of a group of people who may share specific genetic, linguistic or cultural ties. Ethnic dance is a dance of a specific cultureî [Daniel: 1984]. In a broad sense, the term ìethnic danceî refers to all forms of dance which ìreflect the cultural traditions within which they were developedî [Kealiíinohomoku: 1970]. What dance, then, has not been developed out of a ìcultural tradition,î and what distinguishes ethnic from contemporary dance forms? See Joann Kealiíinohomokuís ìAn Anthropologist Looks at Ballet As a Form of Ethnic Danceî (Impulse Publications, 1970) and Yvonne Danielís ìWhat is Ethnic Danceî (1984 San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival Program, available at PALM).
Together, ethnic and contemporary dance pose aesthetic and technical challenges that explore the potential and push the limits of video as a dance preservation tool. Interdisciplinary in nature and featuring varying mixes of live and pre-recorded music, spoken text, intricate costumes and props, multimedia elements, and elaborate uses of performance space, ethnic and contemporary dance works present a complex and rigorous testing ground for the development and refinement of dance documentation strategies.
In the course of the LADD Project, the Consortium members, video fellows and participating artists began the process of uncovering some of the commonalties shared by ethnic and contemporary dance forms, which include:
Preserving Dance, Preserving Culture
Dance, like all arts, can serve to encapsulate, reinforce and transmit cultural traditions and values. Through dance, culture is preserved. Dance documentation, then, becomes a valuable tool for preserving both the dance itself and the traditions and values of culture. Much ethnic dance has been preserved across generations by a cultureís members. However, due to ever-increasing forces of urbanization, mass media, technology, political and economic struggles, and the fusion and diffusion of cultures, the call to document ethnic dance is greater than ever. Some ethnic forms have time-sensitive preservation needs as they are literally ìdying out.î Because contemporary dance can have an exceedingly short life span, it raises other critical documentation and preservation issues. Unlike 18th Century ballet works, for example, which are produced in the present, contemporary dance rarely remains in the public eye for more than a few years. With contemporary artists continually creating new work, dance that is not documented at its premier is often absent from the historical record.
Rather than looking to remedy the gaps that exist in the historical record by preserving dance works of the past, LADD directed its resources and energies forward, towards the establishment of new standards, means and methodologies for documenting dance works in the present. The LADD Project believed this would result in the building of bodies of documented works which, over time, will correct the future historical record. Locating new documentation strategies for the preservation of ethnic and contemporary dance in the present looks forward to a sustainable and complete historical record of dance, and the cultures it mirrors.
LADD Goals and Objectives
Utilizing the expertise and resources of each member, the Consortium implemented a two-year pilot training project in creating quality dance video which would increase the visibility, awareness and understanding of dance. If original footage is the foundation upon which all video works are built, the Consortium posited that quality footage would be a strong foundation on which to build a videoenriched dance discipline. Through the incorporation of quality video, dance histories could be strengthened, representation of constituent communities improved and danceís visible presence among the performing arts enhanced. But video footage is not merely obtained, it is created. It should not be treated as the mere capture of a series of images but considered an artistic and technical discipline in itself, with its own rules, standards and possibilities. The Consortium identified the creation, maintenance and accessibility of collections of quality footage as the cornerstone of preservation and indeed as an investment in the very future of dance.
In response to the above-articulated goals of NIPAD and in accordance with its membersí particular strengths and concerns, in 1994 the Consortium set the following specific objectives for the LADD Project: