Blogathon: Today I will be cataloguing an archive!

by Kate Tittley

Scottish Ballet programme (STA SB 710/67)

Scottish Ballet programme (STA SB 710/67)

Even with the exclamation point, the sentence doesn’t exactly scream ‘rock n roll good time’. And when you come to think about the core tasks – continuous listing, methodical data entry, numbering, labeling, sometimes measuring – it’s sounds rather…well…dull.

Alas, you would be wrong! Listen closely and I shall explain why…

We live in the social media age. Every day, we pick and chose aspects of our own lives, curate them accordingly and post them on forums viewable by potential millions. Whether it’s ‘checking in’ at that hot new bar on Facebook, ‘Tweeting’ your favourite celebrity, creating your ideal garden party scenario on Tumblr, posting a photograph of you doing ‘pouty face’ on Instagram with the #justme for the 10th time that day…The point I’m trying to make is that everyday we make our own archive of what we’re thinking and doing in a way that shows us in the most positive light possible.

But what happened before the internet? How did we let the public know about all the amazing and exciting things we were doing?

Well in the arts, they had the humble programme.

I started thinking about this in April, as trolley packed full of them was wheeled toward me in the reading room of Special Collections, my first day of sorting and cataloguing the most recent drop of Scottish Ballet ephemera. What could I possibly find out from these glossy, advert laden (more about that in a minute) souvenirs that I couldn’t get from running a quick search on The Arts Desk? A lot, actually.

In the days before your every move was enthusiastically written about by a ‘blogger’ and the video diary quickly posted to YouTube, the programme was like a mini annual report, but with better pictures. They are packed full of essays, behind the scenes info on how the production was made, cast bios and community project updates. Keep your eyes on adverts and sponsorships, you will be able to track funding trends.

Through reading Scottish Ballet’s programmes I’ve learned how the company has evolved into what Sanjoy Roy of The Guardian called ‘a kick ass outfit’. In its almost 40 year history the company have seen many highs and far too many lows, but always maintained a positive outlook and high quality productions. To quote Roy again, ‘The comeback kid of British ballet’. Through looking at the company dancers and repertoire, you can trace connections from the biggest names in world ballet, right the way down to a studio on Byres Road. Scottish Ballet isn’t just about gala nights and Guardian reviews, but what they can do for a wider dance community.

Presently, it’s my job to take the names, dates and a few brief details of performance past, and turn them into an easy to search, well organised hub of information ready to be used by others. It is like weaving a complex web of contacts and productions, making sure not to skip a link. As the project continues new gems of information are revealed, and I become more committed to making my contribution to the archiving of Scottish dance history count. What we can see through the archiving process is not only where a company has been but where it is headed in the future. As a great man (who as far as I’m aware has made no contribution to Scottish dance per se) once said – ‘It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’.

So in true archivist style, I have made a list. These are my five favourite things I’ve discovered about Scottish Ballet from the programmes. The internet has come in handy here, often to corroborate what I have on paper. I’m just teasing you with these links below, the provide background information on the wider context. If you want the real deal on Scottish Ballet you’ll have to come find me in the archive where I will be happy to share my enthusiasm with you. I’m the one in the corner, nose in a programme…

  • The Scarlet Pastorale. Choreographed by Scottish Ballet founder Peter Darrell in 1975, it was the last ballet to be choreographed for Prima Ballerina Assoluta Dame Margot Fonteyn. Find out more about Peter Darrell’s works here.
    More in the collection – Sp Coll STA M.c. 131
  • La Fille Mal Gardee 1997. Following what I shall describe as ‘a spot of financial bother’ in 1997, it looked like the show would not go on for Scottish Ballet that Christmas. However in a wonderful display of camaraderie in the balletic community, the Birmingham Royal Ballet shipped their entire production of Ashton’s ‘first British classic’ La Fille Mal Gardee up to Glasgow, even featuring a cameo from Wayne Sleep. Learn more about the origins of the ballet here.
    More in the collection – Collection entry coming soon
  • Classes in the community. Former Scottish Ballet artists Robert Doherty and Glauco Di Lieto teach regular classes around Glasgow. That’s right, you can take an affordable and easy to get to ballet class with world class talent! Now, I can’t imagine any of the Covent Garden set doing that. Be warned should you go, these guys will put you through your paces…a brilliant experience though!
    More in the collection – STA SB 710/28
  •  The Ballets Russes Connection. Every ballet company worth its salt has can trace some form of link to the legendary Ballets Russes. After close inspection, this is my favourite – South African born dancer Vincent Hantam danced with Scottish Ballet between 1975-91. During this time he recreated one of the most technically demanding male dancing roles in Spectre de la rosa. Choreographed for the Ballets Russes by Mikhail Fokine and danced by Vaslav Njinsky, Hantam performed with great success and it is his most famous role. The production he danced in was directed by John Gilpin, who had himself been taught the role by Njinsky’s partner, the ballerina Tamara Karsavina. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of Hantam’s version, but I did find one of Rudolf Nureyev, which perhaps shows the level of technique needed for this role – it is only danced by the greats.
    More in the collection – STA SB 711/1
  • Ashley Page’s Tenure. Artistic director Ashley Page is credited with pulling Scottish Ballet back from the brink and turning them into the lean, technically skilled company they are today with a more contemporary repertoire. Page revisioned quirky versions of the classics such as Cinderella and The Nutcracker along side his own original works to great success. When it came to shaping repertoire, Page was keen to show that technique-wise the company could compete with the heavyweights. He demonstrated this by securing the rights to ballets by both William Forsythe and George Balanchine and staging them on the same bill. A challenge for any company, carried out by Scottish Ballet with great aplomb and applause. Click here to see Ashley Page’s mark on the current repertoire, and here for a brief trailer of the company taking on the masters.
    More in the collection – STA SB 710/50 and STA SB 710/53


Categories: Special Collections

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