New Exhibit Celebrates The Dance Division At NYPL's 75 Years

In 1944, a young music librarian named Genevieve Oswald at The New York Public Library argued that dance materials didn't fit well into the Music or Theatre archives, and should be collected separately and differently. What she created was one of the first archives devoted entirely to dance, originally called the Library's Dance Collection, and now known as the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. In the 75 years since its creation, the Dance Division has become the world's preeminent collection of dance research materials, and an invaluable resource to students, practitioners of all levels, researchers, writers, enthusiasts and artists. Chronicling the art of dance in all its forms, the Division acts as much more than a library. It preserves the history of dance by gathering diverse written, visual, and aural resources, and works to ensure the art form's continuity through active documentation and educational programs.

The Library for the Performing Arts will celebrate the Dance Division's 75th anniversary and contributions to the performing arts community in a new free exhibition entitled Archive in Motion: 75 Years of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. The exhibition will open July 15, 2019 and remain on display through January 25, 2020.

Curated by the head of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Linda Murray, Archive in Motion charts the Dance Division's history and the establishment of international dance archival practices through the display of significant materials from its collections. Items on view will include materials from the first five major collections Oswald acquired - those of Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman - which helped create a foundation for the archive in modern dance. Rare historic dance books from Walter Toscanini's personal collection, which he later donated to the Dance Division, plus costumes, set designs, and more artifacts will be on display as well. The exhibition will not only show the many gems in the Division's holdings, but also tell the story of the Division itself through images and the testimony of the various generations of staff who devoted their working lives to preserving dance history. The exhibition will also showcase rare audio and video materials from the Dance Division's original documentation projects, including oral histories with dance luminaries, and video recordings of performances, rehearsals and more.

"The Dance Division is the keeper of dance's story. It contextualizes dance artists within the framework of the political and social issues of their time and it compellingly illuminates how dance as a form connects all human beings and surfaces why we choose movement as a method of emotional and intellectual expression. To work in this place and safeguard these treasures is humbling. I am fortunate to be the Division's curator in an anniversary year and to have this opportunity to display some of the riches from within our vaults. Although the exhibition is not intended to be a definitive history of dance or the Division, my hope is that through the selected objects a sense of how the Division and its collections came together will emerge."

Highlights from Archive in Motion include:

  • Doris Humphrey's essay, The Dance Score, from 1936 which articulates the need for a dance archive to exist
  • Alexandra Danilova's red tutu from Swan Lake
  • Agnes DeMille's costume from Rodeo
  • Tunic and floral crown worn by Isadora Duncan
  • Original costume designs by pioneering African American ballet dancer Janet Collins
  • Complete costume bibles of the dance bugaku, gifted to Ted Shawn by the Emperor of Japan
  • Tanjore paintings depicting Indian classical dance
  • Footage of Anna Pavlova's dying swan dance, and one of the feathers she would place in her tutu during performances in order to give the impression of "molting" on stage
  • Vaslav Nijinsky diaries, paintings, and letters
  • Salvador Dali's rejected set designs for Romeo & Juliet at Ballet Theatre
  • Marc Chagall and Natalia Goncharova's designs for Firebird
  • Jerome Robbins's personal musical score for Other Dances
  • Isamu Noguchi's set models for Orpheus

Archive in Motion will also honor one of the Dance Division's greatest assets: its staff. Many of the Dance Division's staff have been dancers or choreographers before or while also working at the Library. This intimate understanding of dance has helped staff shape the collection and made them uniquely equipped to serve patrons.
Renamed in honor of Jerome Robbins - one of the Dance Division's greatest supporters - in 1999, the Division not only houses its name sake's vast collection, but is the leading international repository for the history of dance, with documentation that dates back to 1453 and representation for dance of all styles from around the world. The archive includes irreplaceable film that dates back to 1897; unique designs by visual artists; choreographic notation; photographs; manuscript collections; shoes and many more examples of ephemera. When taken together, these materials provide the opportunity to fleetingly recapture the most elusive of the performing arts.

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