"Archives Cost Real Money!”
The dance archives’ situation is precarious, but awareness of their importance is growing
"Of course, too little has been documented. We all had neither the means nor the possibilities,” summed up Berlin dance promotion pioneer Nele Hertling in an interview in 2014.
Not much is different nowadays: Changes in leadership or underfunding jeopardize the existence of archives. A passionate collector like Pina Bausch, whose estate is kept by a separate foundation and digitized with millions, is an exception. But the awareness that something has to change is growing – and the Federal Cultural Foundation proved to be a game-changer with its Tanzfonds Erbe.
So far, most archive stories begin with coincidences or the commitment of individuals: The Berlin dance archive, restored in 1948 by the dancer and educator Kurt Peters, was acquired in 1985 by the Stadtsparkasse Cologne and the city of Cologne and thanks to the passionate collector and bustling director Frank-Manuel Peter has developed into the most important dance archive in Germany. The story of the Tanzarchiv Leipzig is not as pleasant. Founded in 1957 by Kurt Petermann, the Free State of Saxony parcelled it out of the GDR’s Academy of Arts after reunification – just to get rid of it as soon as possible after the costs of its operation were recognized. In 2011, the archive found shelter in the Leipzig University Library and its director, Patrick Primavesi, is trying to keep it afloat through research applications. This treatment of the only dance archive in the GDR is shameful. Its loss gnaws at Stephan Dörschel to this day.
Dörschel heads the archive of the Department of Performing Arts in the Berlin Academy of Arts. The works of dance grands such as Gret Palucca, Mary Wigman, Johann Kresnik or Tom Schilling are documented there. Its situation is comparatively luxurious: Artists and institutions are usually happy to accommodate their holdings, because "such an archive really costs money”, as Dörschel puts it.
The Mime Centrum in Berlin, which has been documenting dance performances since 1993, is, as its director Thilo Wittenbecher says, more of a "miraculously chaotic archive”. It was not until 2006 that the Hauptstadtkulturfonds funded a database and the previously printed out lists could be replaced.
Archives are (still) unknown continents waiting for researchers like Laure Guilbert. The French dance scholar relates: "When you engage in dance, there‘s always something new to discover.” The age of exploring dance history has only just begun.
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