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The Choreographic Archive of Siobhan Davies Dance


By Sanjoy Roy

Why a Dance Archive?

History is made of movements, moments and people, of actions and responses, choices and chances.

So too is dance.

Look at any piece of choreography and you'll see movements and moments, people in action and response, by choice or by chance.

So there is a close connection between dance and history. Yet because dance becomes history so immediately - each moment disappearing into the past as soon as it is over - the field of dance history has always struggled to establish itself. Where are the records, the evidence, the raw material by which we can recognise that history? In the case of dance, they are mostly traces in memories, intangible.

But that is not all there is. Performances come and go, but other records are left: programmes, written articles, photographs, pieces of costume or set, sketches and notations. And increasingly, as technologies have developed, the records have expanded beyond text, image and artefact to include audiovisual recordings - videos of performance or rehearsal, talks by creators or participants.

Because of this, dance is leaving more records than ever before. These are the raw materials of dance archives. It is time to start making history with them.

Why a Digital Dance Archive?

The materials of dance history can be found anywhere: in offices or in homes, filed in cabinets or scattered among shelves and boxes. But an archive is only useful to the extent that it can be found and used.

The first requirement for usability is for the material to be gathered into one place, so that people looking for it can find it easily. In the age of the internet, that place can be virtual: a website address. The archive then becomes accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.

To achieve this, the entire archive must be converted to and stored in digital file formats. And this also brings considerable benefits for usability. Instead of cabinets full of labelled files and folders, the digitised information is easier to catalogue, to search and to use. It also enables certain interactive features - such as compiling digital scrapbooks - whereby users can tailor their routes through and records from the archive according to their own interests.

Why a Contemporary Dance Archive?

Contemporary dance is part of our more recent dance history. Ironically, this does not make contemporary dance more accessible to history. Far more than ballet, contemporary dance is concerned with the new: with starting from scratch, breaking from the past, reinventing itself. New movements are sought, new principles explored, new terrains opened up, often from highly individual standpoints.

So unlike ballet, contemporary dance has not developed much by way of a "lexicon" of moves, a shared language that can be passed on and communicated; individual languages tend to be more highly valued. Furthermore, its search for the new means that pieces are rarely kept "in rep" - a kind of living archive for a back catalogue of work maintained through repetition, practice and revival.

That makes a contemporary dance archive all the more important. Because contemporary dance is so much part of the here and now - not just as performances, but in its very approach - it is often, lost to history more readily than dances from older traditions.

Why a Siobhan Davies Archive?

In many ways, Davies' own history intersects with the history of contemporary dance in the UK. British contemporary dance can be traced back to the turning point of 1966/67, when Ballet Rambert became a contemporary dance company and Contemporary Dance Group - which gave rise to London Contemporary Dance Theatre and School - was founded. Davies' dance career also began then: in 1967 she began taking dance classes with Contemporary Dance Group, and was involved in their first performance at the Adeline Genée Theatre. In 1969, she began her relationship with London Contemporary Dance Theatre and by 1972 she was choreographing for the company. In 1981, as the independent dance scene began to grow, she founded Siobhan Davies and Dancers, and the following year co-founded Second Stride, one of the most influential independent companies of its day. In 1988, she moved from LCDT to Rambert (until 1992), and in the same year founded Siobhan Davies Dance Company, which remains the focus of her creative energy to this day.

Siobhan Davies, then, has both been part of history and - having been instrumental in establishing contemporary dance as part of our cultural life - has made part of history. So the Siobhan Davies dance archive cuts two ways. On the one hand, it tracks Davies' own path as a choreographer and shows the parts played by dancers, composers, designers and other artists in creating this body of work. On the other hand, in documenting talks, demonstrations and creative projects such as Jerwood Bank, it shows Davies's connections with the wider worlds of contemporary dance and contemporary culture. For this is not only a choreographic history, it is also a cultural and creative one.


This, then, is a historic dance archive in several ways. It is the first digital dance archive in the UK. It offers windows onto dance history in general and Siobhan Davies' creative history in particular. And it shows that history is indeed like a dance, made of moments and movements, actions and responses, choices and chances. It is an open invitation for you to explore that process.

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