This September, Newberry archivists began a two-year project to arrange, preserve, and describe 13 of the largest unprocessed collections within the library’s Midwest Dance Collection. These collections, comprising the records of dance companies and the personal papers of individual dancers and choreographers, are currently available to the public but prohibitively difficult to explore without detailed finding aids.
Compiling these finding aids is a key component of the archives team’s work; once available through the Newberry’s website, the searchable inventories promise to make a significantly greater portion of the Midwest Dance Collection accessible to historians, practicing dancers and choreographers, educators, and performing arts groups. The project is made possible by a grant from the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.
The newly accessible materials will support research into the work of major contributors to Chicago’s vibrant dance culture, including Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, MoMing Dance and Arts Center, and the dancer and choreographer Ruth Page. The types of items encompassed by the processing project are as varied as the organizations and individuals represented in the Midwest Dance Collection. There are publicity materials, memorabilia, photographs, correspondence, programs, souvenir books, and musical scores, among other genres. Newberry archivists will also digitize audio, film, and video recordings within the dance collections.
In addition to creating enhanced research tools, the Newberry will illuminate Chicago dance history further by organizing and hosting public programs, often in partnership with organizations like the Chicago Dance History Project (CDHP). The first of these events, consisting of behind-the-scenes tours of the Newberry’s stacks building and the dance collections, will also feature CDHP’s oral history initiative, the results of which will eventually be stored in the Newberry. The tours will take place Thursday, October 8, as part of Chicago Open Archives week. And on Wednesday, November 11, at 6 pm, the Newberry will host “Sybil Shearer: Maverick of the Past, Muse of the Present.” During this event, local dancer Kristina Isabelle will perform three reconstructions of the work of dancer Sybil Shearer. Following the performance, Isabelle, Jenai West (CDHP), Bonnie Brooks (Dance Center), and Carol Doty and Toby Nicolson (Morrison-Shearer Foundation) will discuss Shearer’s legacy and the preservation and reinterpretation of her dances. Additional events will be planned throughout the two-year initiative.
The Newberry’s Midwest Dance Collection originated in the 1980s, when dance critic Ann Barzel donated her collection of dance materials to the Newberry, making it a center for the study of twentieth-century dance history in Chicago and the Midwest. In the years following Barzel’s gift, the Newberry has strengthened its dance holdings with a range of personal papers, ephemera, books, and archives of major dance studios and companies in the Chicago area. The ever-growing collection now consists of over 80 discrete collections providing rare insight into Chicago’s diverse dance community.