Digital collection of dance performances finds a home at USC

Posted by Tyson Gaskill

A new home for a rich digital collection of culturally significant dance-performance recordings will be created by the USC Libraries and the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

The collection will include more than 1,200 performances digitized over 15 years by the Dance Heritage Coalition at hubs in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., thanks to a $560,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation under its Arts and Cultural Heritage program.

It spans dance genres from classical Indian forms to butoh, hip-hop, postmodern and tap as well as movement traditions from cultures around the world. The digital resource aims to capture many facets of U.S. and global dance heritage featuring artists such as Camille A. Brown, Ze’eva Cohen, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Joe Goode Performance Group, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Glen Tetley and Urban Bush Women.

With Mellon Foundation support, the USC Libraries and USC Kaufman will embark on an ambitious new phase of development for the collection in collaboration with Dance/USA, which is integrating the preservation programs of the Dance Heritage Coalition. The multiyear effort will leverage the USC Libraries’ strengths in digital collections and digital preservation of cultural heritage materials and the experimental culture of USC Kaufman.

l“The Dance Heritage Coalition’s collection embodies an extraordinarily diverse set of creative traditions,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries. “And thanks to the Mellon Foundation, we’re able to bring this new digital resource to a global audience of students, scholars and creative artists.”

Jodie Gates, vice dean and director of USC Kaufman, added that the school is eager to work with USC Libraries and Dance/USA on the preservation of  the prolific and important collection.

“Researching and providing access to the archives is critical,” she said, “while honoring dance artists and preserving our dance lineage will be impactful for future generations.”

Digital dance collection bound for USC Digital Library and beyond

The grant will support the migration of the digital collection to the USC Digital Library and Digital Public Library of America and its long-term preservation, using the advanced systems of the USC Digital Repository. It also will support an intensive planning effort for the future of the digital resource and the digitization of 800 new recordings of performances by L.A.-area dance artists and dance companies.

The collection will grow to include new recordings of significant dance performances and integrate them into classroom teaching and student- and faculty-led performances at USC Kaufman and other leading dance schools.

As the Dance Heritage Coalition documented in its field surveys, hundreds of thousands of hours of recordings of dance performances and rehearsals are at risk of being lost because of degrading media such as VHS, U-matic and Beta videotapes. This record of the world’s movement heritage is effectively invisible since it requires obsolete and difficult-to-maintain equipment for playback. But educators say there is a need for accessible, full-length recordings of performances that capture the nuances of specific movements and the expressions given to them by dance artists.

The launch of the new undertaking comes at an opportune time in the university’s history, with the launch of the Collections Convergence Initiative in which dance, film and other performing arts represent a key area of collection development and scholarship.

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