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Gary Rosen

Creating a ballet archive as a contribution to dance education.

Rosen, Gary: "Creating a ballet archive as a contribution to dance education", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.


The creation of a ballet archive for Cape Town City Ballet (CTCB) in Cape Town, South Africa, serves as a significant platform for dance research and provides vital information for interested persons in the company’s history and development. Furthermore, it serves as an important research tool for dance education and offers a carefully documented account of different resources available to dance educators and the company’s personnel. Archival materials generally relate to the company’s repertoire but also include specific records of crucial events, company staff (dancers and management, both past and present) and various performances. A thread is established by which the company’s policy is recorded and, if not of a strictly confidential nature, made accessible to serious researchers. A dance archive - or any archive for that matter - chronicles the past and accounts for the present by acting as a repository of dance activity and dance events. The CTCB archive not only performs several functions that fulfil the requirements of company dancer, company management, dance researcher, dance educationalist, dance historian and former company dancer, but also incorporates archival material from its predecessor in title, the CAPAB, or Cape Performing Arts Board, Ballet Company. The CTCB replaced CAPAB Ballet as an independent ballet company constituted in terms of Section 21 of the South African Companies Act No. 61 of 1973. As a company “not for gain”, the CTCB is governed by a Board under the chairmanship of Associate Professor Elizabeth Triegaardt, who is also the Principal of the University of Cape Town’s School of Dance. The CTCB archive, in conjunction with CAPAB Ballet, therefore reflects its rightful place in the evolution of South African ballet and documents the history of professional ballet in Cape Town during the last forty years of the 20th century and the corresponding opening years of the 21st century.

The composition of archival material in the CTCB archive consists of aural, visual and written resources. The methodology sought for arranging and classifying the resources was regulated by their location and subsequent collection before collation and documentation could be accomplished. This gave way to the eventual initiation of an archive, and the creative process was equally educational in so far as resources had to be classified and categorized according to a method aimed at simplicity, consistency and clarity. Documentation of materials governed the founding procedure of shaping an archive and determined a methodical course by which materials would be available for academic instruction such as research, study, tutoring and for laymen interested in the ballet company. This obviously depended on the requirements of the user. It was also decided not to use the Dewey Decimal Classification as this was a ballet company’s personal archive that only reflected its own materials rather than an extensive, more general archive that might include dance bands, dance halls, dance orchestras, dance therapy, dancing customs, dancing ethics, dancing games and a host of dance forms.

Both the CTCB and CAPAB Ballet’s archival possessions were located and stored in a dance studio known as Echoes. This was in the year 2000 and continued to be the situation until the beginning of 2001. Prior to 2000 all the material had been gathered and deposited in the erstwhile offices of CAPAB Ballet, which were occupied by members of the administrative staff of the former CAPAB Ballet some of whom are employed by the current CTCB. The materials had not been sorted, classified, catalogued, numbered or labelled except for part of the video collection then stored at the University of Cape Town’s William Bell Music library. Each aspect of the collection was grouped together, removed and processed accordingly before being transported to CTCB’s new, purposely built archive room. There the items would be deposited and stored. The collection encompassed the following:

1. Aural or sound archives

Aural or sound archives include a selection of reel-to-reel tape recordings of the now defunct CAPAB orchestra which were used for rehearsals and sometimes accompanied CAPAB Ballet in performance, particularly when the company went touring and it was not possible for the orchestra to attend with them. These tapes are available on five and seven inch reel-to-reel tapes and on tapes measuring 2500ft/762 metres. The CTCB now uses these as rehearsal tapes. Mini disc recordings of the Cape Philharmonic orchestra have replaced the reel-to-reel tapes and have proved to be more practical, less cumbersome and more desirable. Obviously they required cataloguing as well. Long-playing gramophone vinyl recordings housed in the archive for private choreographic inspirational use rather than performance thereby avoids any possible infringement of copyright legislation. Cassette-tape recordings that chronicle lecture-demonstrations for schools programmes were also catalogued. Compact disc (CD) recordings by the Cape Philharmonic orchestra for company rehearsal and possibly performance complete the sound archives.

All these materials were catalogued in the following manner:

1a. All items were collected separately according to the nature of the material, i.e. reel-to-reel tape, mini disc, cassette tape recording etc. and then the itemswere gathered together and held as a separate collection;

1b. Each collection was then sorted into alphabetical sequence according to thetitle on the reel-to-reel tape, compact disc etc. Each was numbered with Arabic numerals. The individual numbers allocated to a particular item becamethat item’s serial number. The numbers in a particular collection e.g. reel-to-reel tapes, mini discs, cassette tape recordings were then recorded as acatalogue, given a heading with a brief explanation as to the content of thecatalogue, which was saved on the computer hard disk as well as on computer software backup. The item was given a serial number;

1c. Corresponding numerals to those recorded and saved on computer hard diskwere produced, cut and pasted onto the reel-to-reel tapes, mini discs, cassettetape recordings etc;

1d. The date of recording was inserted on the catalogue where the date was available on the item being catalogued. If no date was available then researchto ascertain the exact date of recording was undertaken by oral investigation.In circumstances where attempting to establish a date proved unsuccessful theitem was marked “undated” on the catalogue. Compact disc numbers wererecorded on the compact disc catalogue in lieu of the date of recording unlessthe latter was available.

Information on the compact disc catalogue was the most informative and included a serial number for each item, composer/vocalist (where applicable), title of compact disc, conductor/performer, disc number and, if possible, date of recording. The maximum amount of items in the aural catalogue category were the two catalogues for the five and seven inch reel-to-reel tapes - which numbered 235 tapes - and the 2500ft/762 metre reel-to reel tapes, which numbered 306 tapes. Since the life span of a reel-to-reel tape is limited - the tapes become stretched through extensive use - it was decided to create additional assessment catalogues that would reflect the quality of the tape as at a certain date. This involved listening to the tapes and commenting on a) the sound quality and b) recommended use of the tape as at the date of assessment. The sound quality varied from excellent to very poor and this was reflected on the assessment catalogue alongside the serial number of the tape and in terms of an abbreviation, for example E for excellent and VP for very poor. The suggested use of the tape was also reflected by an abbreviation that varied from FR, standing for rehearsal to FREO, which stood for research only. Separate catalogues were created for the five and seven inch tapes and the larger tapes measuring 2500ft/762 metres. Each catalogue included an explanatory key for both sound quality and recommended use of tape. The ultimate idea was to give the user an indication of the quality of the tape. These catalogues, as well as the catalogues reflecting the serial numbers of the tapes, had to be updated after the Artscape Theatre Centre Organization discovered more reel-to-reel tapes that had to be classified and catalogued. Separate catalogues for the additional tapes (both the tapes in the five and seven inch category and the 2500ft/762 metre tapes) had to be created and were based on the same compilation procedure as the original reel-to-reel catalogues. Once serial numbers were added to the new tapes these, too, had to be assessed in terms of their quality and the recommended use of the tape. This called for additional assessment catalogues and it was decided simply to continue the serial numbers from where the numbers on the initial catalogues had left off. The additional catalogue for the five and seven inch reel-to-reel tapes now totalled 327 tapes while the 2500ft/762 metre tapes amounted to 381 reel-to-reel tapes. The date of assessment was included on the additional assessment catalogues as an indication as to when the tapes were appraised.

The final component of the aural archive requiring cataloguing was the long-playing gramophone vinyl recordings. These were classified and listed alphabetically according to the title of the vinyl recording. Provision was also made for a serial number, title of recording, composer, orchestra and conductor. The vinyl recordings were catalogued because they formed part of the collection and are only used for research and not for public performance.

All catalogues for the aural/sound resources are constantly updated as and when new material is received. The two exceptions to this are the gramophone vinyl recordings, which are a complete set, and the all the catalogues for the reel-to-reel tapes (including assessment catalogues) as recordings of this nature are no longer being pursued. As mentioned previously, mini discs are more favourable for several reasons and the sound quality is superior to the reel-to-reel tapes. Also, the mini disc is more enduring.

2.Visual materials

Visual materials that required cataloguing included video recordings and photographs of company events, company dancers and company performances. Two catalogues were created for the video recordings, one to represent documentaries and performances by the CTCB and the other to group documentaries and performances by different dance companies. A private collection of dance videos donated to the archive also had to be catalogued. The catalogues for CAPAB Ballet and other dance companies were already in existence, and it was decided to retain these and add new video material to the existing catalogue for what was called “foreign” companies. This was achieved simply by augmenting the list in terms of serial number, production or name of ballet, and the company performing the piece. Casting details were not included. The list for CAPAB Ballet could not be enlarged because the company is no longer in existence. The serial numbers for CAPAB Ballet and the CTCB were marked with the letter “A” while the serial numbers for other companies were marked with the letter “C”, for example A100 in the catalogue for CAPAB Ballet and CTCB video recordings and C100 for non-CAPAB Ballet and non-CTCB video recordings. No explanation was given as to what the “A” or “C” stood for. Due to circumstances (and the demise of the name CAPAB Ballet) there are evidently no new video recordings by CAPAB Ballet. Furthermore, the collection of CAPAB Ballet videos recorded on the Betamax system is shelved together with its appropriate catalogue in the archive. The idea is eventually to transfer the CAPAB Ballet performances recorded on Betamax tape to Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc (abbreviated to DVD) since DVD’s presents an enhanced picture with superior sound quality.

2a.The information required for the CTCB video catalogue includes different categories that reflect information a user would require or anticipate. Although the information is currently listed in numerical progression according to serial number rather than alphabetical sequence, this will be altered to bring the video catalogue in line with the rest of the archive catalogues. Titles of the video recordings will take preference and be listed alphabetically rather than in numerical sequence. This also allows for greater efficacy on the user’s behalf. The categories included were: serial number, title (of ballet or production), choreographer, casting details and the date of recording and time of performance i.e. whether it was a matinee or evening performance. Where casting details (usually written on the video or inserted in the video cover) were expansive and meticulous, the user is then referred to the cover of the video recording for full casting details. The combined collection of CAPAB Ballet and CTCB recordings amounted to 478 whereas the video catalogue for non-CAPAB Ballet, non-CTCB video recordings totalled 171. New video recording acquisitions are added to the video catalogues as and when they become available. The procedure followed is to give them the next serial number; to complete the information required and thereby includes the videos as part of the recorded catalogue. The introduction of Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc (abbreviated to DVD) to CTCB filmed productions in 2002 makes video recordings superfluous. A catalogue for DVD recordings is yet to be prepared and will include similar categories to those found in the CTCB video catalogue. Alphabetical listing, as opposed to a chronological numerical inventory, would take preference and therefore be implemented. A separate set of CTCB video productions were copied from existing CTCB video recordings for use as company rehearsal tapes. These are identified in the catalogue with the same serial number as the original tape but marked with a lower case letter from the alphabet to distinguish it from the original. Brackets are inserted around the letter, for example A450 for Veronica Paeper’s The Rain Queen and A450 (a) for the rehearsal copy of The Rain Queen. The words copy are inserted next to the serial number and copied video tapes are marked with the lower case alphabetical letter between brackets as well.

The final video catalogue was a private collection bequeathed to CTCB by the late Cecily Robinson, who trained in Cape Town with Helen Webb and at the MarieRambertSchool in London during the 1930’s. She danced with Ballet Rambert and later joined the ballet company run by Leon Woizikovsky in Europe. Robinson subsequently danced with the De Basil Company but a serious knee injury ended her career unexpectedly. She returned to Cape Town and created the Cape Town Ballet Club in 1938. A school was established in 1945 for the Ballet Club and in 1946 the company transferred its name to the South African National Ballet. Robinson left the Company after her marriage in 1947 and travelled to Zimbabwe where she remained for a year. Returning to Cape Town in 1948, she joined the staff of the University of Cape Town (U.C.T.) Ballet School and was eventually appointed in 1971 as guest teacher for CAPAB Ballet. Robinson produced ballets for CAPAB Ballet, the most exemplary being her production of Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphide in 1978 and several revivals of the ballet. The Cape Town City Ballet was indeed honoured to receive Miss Robinson’s impressive collection (106 dance videos).

The video recordings in Miss Robinson’s collection were already numbered when the CTCB archive received the set. A catalogue had to be established to identify the video content of each video and to list the findings accordingly. It was decided to retain the existing numbering sequence and to catalogue the material in chronological number progression rather than alphabetically. Besides, several videos featured events, interviews and productions that sometimes began with the same letter of the alphabet. Numerical listing was clearly more prudent in the circumstances and the catalogue contained two headings: video serial number and, in a separate column, explanation/ content of video material. The catalogue itself was fairly detailed in its explanation of video content and amounted to 16 pages.

2b.The photographic collection represented the other aspect of visual materials and, as mentioned earlier, these comprised a selection taken at various CTCB functions but also include photographs from CAPAB Ballet productions many of which had already been classified with relevant explanations on the reverse side. Most of the CTCB photographs pertain to the ballet company’s performances, studio portraits of the dancers, photographs taken in studio rehearsal and posed studio pictures of the dancers in costume for various ballets. The collection also contains photographic material of company events such as gala performances and fund-raising affairs. Most of the CAPAB Ballet photographs have been identified with an adhesive sticker attached to the reverse side of the photograph. Typed on the sticker or written in neat, legible handwriting is information about the photograph such as production details, the dancers involved in the photograph and the date. The CTCB photographs will follow the same procedure with stickers attached to the reverse side of the photograph and onto which provision is made for the completion of the following: production, title of ballet, venue, dates, cast, choreographer, producer and photographer. The completion of photographic details is a work in progress and has not been completed yet.

Photographs have been sorted in large envelopes with the title of the ballet and, where possible, the date of the production neatly written in the upper right-hand corner of the envelope. This is a temporary measure until the photographs can be more securely housed than in envelopes. A further temporary measure is the acquisition of concertina files with letters of the alphabet inserted on the cover. The intention is to place the envelopes in the concertina files until they can be stored in folders and accommodated more securely in the archive. The folders themselves should be held in a protected environment to safeguard the photographs from damage.

3. Written materials

Written materials formed the final component of the archive. They comprised twomain categories: the first was a collection of scrapbooks and the second was a collection of files pertaining to former dancers of CAPAB Ballet and CTCB as well as former administrative personnel of CAPAB Ballet and CTCB and former CAPAB Ballet choreographers.

3a.The set of scrapbooks contained a wealth of information about company publicity, company performances, company reviews and personality profiles. The catalogue was divided into two sections, the first simply allocated a serial number to a specific scrapbook and the second, which formed the greater part of the catalogue, furnished the year under discussion and contained a description of the content by identifying the chief areas of its subject matter. The designated serial number was then cut and pasted onto a particular scrapbook.The scrapbook catalogue is almost complete and the scrapbooks per se have been unpacked on shelves in the archive.

3b. The company’s collection of files relating to past CAPAB Ballet dancers andadministration are filed in alphabetical sequence and stored in a filing cabinet in thearchive. Current personal files relating to the company’s dancers are kept with thecompany administrator stored in her office.

Apart from offering both a diverse repertoire and regular performances, CTCB also presents various exciting and comprehensive Outreach and Audience Development Programmes. The information and records apropos these projects also require classification and eventual storage in the archive, especially since they were first established over 35 years ago and, over the past ten years, have reached 250 156 people. The Audience Development Scheme alone has reached 24 125 learners and educators mainly from dance schools and primary and secondary educational institutions. Other educational programmes include a work experience programme whereby learners are provided with an incentive for a career choice in dance. Attendees from all communities are exposed to an extensive programme of activities. The Outreach Programme includes a schools’ programme where educators and learners are offered a skills based programme. The current programme has reached 46 621 learners and educators. The ‘Reachout’ Programme encourages educators and learners to visit the company for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daily life of a professional dancer. Arts and Culture Forums, Workshops and Lecture Demonstrations aim to extend the knowledge and appreciation of ballet. The Development Training Programmes include practical educational classes for male dancers. Young boys from the programme are used in CTCB’s productions at the Artscape Opera House, for example in the 2002 world premiere of Jean Paul Comelin’s The Sleeping Beauty. Finally, the Apprenticeship Development Programme is skills based and aims at job creation for those serious about pursuing a career in the profession. Since the programme was launched may participants have taken part in major performances with CTCB. As mentioned earlier, all the activities of the Outreach and Development Programmes require acknowledgment and documentation in the CTCB archive.

The founding and development of the CTCB archive, apart from its educational value as a research tool, stands as testimony to the founders of professional ballet in Cape Town: Dr. Dulcie Howes and Professor David Poole. The Cape Town City Ballet Company has its roots in the University of Cape Town Ballet Company and can be traced back to 1934. The next phase of archive creating is to consider the educational value in developing an archive for the University of Cape Town Ballet Company.

Dr. Mr. Gary Rosen



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