Jessie Hopper 2014-02-11 10:57:47
Russian Ballets by Colonel de Basil opened at the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum in Moscow in August. Celebrating the life and career of dance impresario Colonel Wassily de Basil, the exhibit commemorated the 125th anniversary of his birth with materials from archives and museums across the globe, including the Ballets Russes Archive at the School of Dance at the University of Oklahoma (OU). An Oklahoma Home Whenever the conversation turns to the Ballets Russes Archive, people inevitably ask, “Why Oklahoma?” Following their performing careers with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Miguel Terekhov and his wife, Yvonne Chouteau, eventually relocated to Oklahoma City.Chouteau was raised in Vinita, Oklahoma, and is one of the five celebrated Native American ballerinas from the state. OU approached the couple to create a school of dance in 1961, focusing on classical ballet technique. The OU School of Dance has since remained a top ballet program. Following the release of the documentary Ballets Russes in 2005, Terekhov and Chouteau asked the school’s director Mary Margaret Holt how they could utilize the materials from their careers with the Ballet Russe. This led to the 2007 launch of the Ballets Russes Archive. Other contributions soon followed, and the archive has grown to encompass sixty-five collections featuring nearly six thousand items in about seventyfive linear feet. In 2011, the archive received a Faculty Challenge Grant, which provided for two graduate assistants from the School of Library and Information Studies, new hardware and software for digitization, and preservation materials. Over the past two years, the archive has gone from a collection of cardboard boxes in file cabinets to a modern specialized archive with proper preservation and processing procedures. Identifying Exhibit Materials In March, Holt received a request from the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, which displays theatre relics from Russia, to send materials for Russian Ballets by Colonel de Basil. We were given a hard copy of the email in which the museum asked us to provide any materials that related to de Basil and his company, including photographs, programs, posters, articles, documents, and video. With only this email and few specific requests, we had to use our best judgment to guess which items from our archive would be useful. Graduate assistant Michelle Merriman, dance fellow Sierra Codalata, and I searched collections for appropriate materials.We currently use Filemaker Pro to catalog our collections.Although the program allows us to create custom databases for each collection, we do not have a linked master database that includes all the material.When we need to find specific materials, we must search each database individually to find the items.While identifying materials for the exhibit, one challenge we faced was the fact that the Ballets Russes Archive holds materials of three different companies, all of which carry the name Ballet Russe. Serge Diaghilev launched the Ballet Russe in 1909 and forever changed the history of dance. The company premiered such extraordinary works as The Firebird, The Rite of Spring, and Afternoon of a Faun. The Ballet Russe reigned uninterrupted until Diaghilev’s death in 1929. In 1932, Colonel de Basil and René Blum brought together many of the dancers from Diaghilev’s company as well as new stars under the company title Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. For several years, they toured Europe and the United States. However, tension between the two company directors led to a permanent split in 1935.The Blum company kept the name Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and Colonel de Basil started a new company, the Original Ballet Russe. The Ballets Russes Archive primarily contains material from artists who danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, because the company was mostly based in the United States. The Original Ballet Russe spent more time in Central and South America, and fewer records have remained intact. To determine which collections contained material from the de Basil company, we had to start by checking reference material to see which donors were members of the Original Ballet Russe. The archive has two significant collections documenting dancers who spent much of their careers with Original Ballet Russe.Nathalie Branitzka-Hoyer danced in both Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe and Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe. Her collection, the most diverse in the archive, contains programs and photographs from the early years of the company, including programs from the combined Blum and de Basil company and the first Australian tour of the Original Ballet Russe in 1936 and 1937. The Tatiana Bechenova collection contains the most complete record of the Original Ballet Russe’s time in Central and South America. Bechenova danced with the company from 1939 to 1947, and the collection contains more than nine hundred photographs and three hundred programs.Since the Bechenova collection was not fully processed, we spent a lot of time with the photographs to pinpoint the ones that would best fit the exhibitors’ needs and to enter the metadata in our database. The major challenge in trying to include items from unprocessed collections is not having a database to search. While we had gone through the material to sort it into appropriate boxes and folders, we did not have anything written down with regards to the metadata and physical description to note exactly where each item was held. We had to keep processing quickly to make sure we did not miss something that might be relevant to the exhibition. Dr. Camille Hardy, a dance history professor at OU, assisted us with our search, recommending photographs she was familiar with from her forty years of research on the topic. She also brought in a contributor, Robert Johnson, who loaned photographs of his mother Nina Youskevitch, a dancer with Original Ballet Russe. To Russia The Bakhrushin requested we send digital copies to avoid the expense of sending materials overseas. We have a limited amount of server space that was allotted to us through the School of Dance. We needed more space, as we were beginning to digitize our collections and we had to digitize all the materials that we were sending to the Bakhrushin. To send the materials, we engaged in collaboration with the OU Libraries. We entered into an agreement to use their server space to store the digitized files and to work with their personnel to create better access to our materials, both internally and for our users. The library also facilitated our sharing the files through Amazon CloudFront, a web service for content delivery that allowed us to efficiently send the materials to the museum. Trying to connect all these disparate pieces was at times frustrating because there was often a lack of communication between the parties. In retrospect, we should have been more assertive in trying to gather the information we needed rather than waiting to have it handed to us. For all those difficulties, getting the confirmation that our material had indeed made it to Moscow was exhilarating. We were unsure which, if any, of our materials would be incorporated into the exhibit. Luckily, Holt, with support from the College of Fine Arts, was able to travel to Moscow for the opening.She met with the curator and staff of the museum as well as other members of the Ballet Russe community, and she returned with a number of photographs of the archive’s programs and images displayed in the exhibit. Collaboration can present many challenges.Whether it is across oceans, across campus, or even across the building, competing interests and personalities must be integrated to produce the best outcome for all involved. Communication is key. By understanding the motives and needs of all of the stakeholders involved, expectations are more easily realized. Knowing that the time and effort expended paid off in such an exciting way provided an enormous sense of accomplishment for all those involved in the project.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.