The first digital dance archive: Siobhan Davies RePlay
Working closely with leading British choreographer Siobhan Davies, Professor Sarah Whatley’s research underpinned the development of the digital archive. It contains 5,000+ items relating to 40 choreographed works and eight projects, and offers free access to a collection of previously unavailable material.
“Dance, as an ephemeral art form, was largely absent from our documented history of cultural practice,” explains Whatley, “So a model was needed showing how digital technologies could support the preservation and wider distribution of dance.”
The archive has been highly successful and has established a productive collaboration between university researchers and Siobhan Davies Dance. From September 2009 to August 2010, the archive received more than 42,000 hits from across the world, with user numbers far outstripping audience numbers for live dance performance. The Archive has since undergone 300 trials in various university libraries worldwide, and has sold subscriptions to universities in Europe and the USA. Whatley herself continues to receive requests from around the world to talk about the archive, as it remains unique.
Project partner, Cambridge Imaging Systems, has been able to attract new customers and sales as a result of its expanded technological know-how. Skills exchange has also led to consultancy opportunities for the project team, which in turn have revolutionised the way other organisations such as the V&A think about curating and archiving.
Sharing skills with other private enterprises has seen success for the Routledge Performance Archive. “Whatley was instrumental in the early stages of development of the Archive,” Talia Rodgers says. “Without her help and advice the project would have been much harder to get off the ground.”
As a consequence of problems encountered while creating the Archive, significant work was undertaken in Intellectual Property Rights, copyright and distribution licenses. This led the way for others such as Rambert Dance Company in working on their own material, and culminated in Whatley being awarded a major AHRC grant to extend this research into the field of dance and disability.
The RePlay archive has informed Davies’ on-going work. She drew on the archive contents, along with the concept of the archive in relation to dance, to create her gallery project, Table of Contents, which has been taken to a number of significant UK and European venues. The production recreates the archival content to test out the way in which the dancer’s body is in itself an archive through which historical material can be resurrected.
In her review of the performance in The Guardian, Judith Mackrell’s wrote: “Table of Contents is engagingly ambitious in the questions it wants to provoke about what dancers do and how they do it, and it manages to speak to insiders and novices alike.”