Temple Libraries receive grant
to reconstruct and document important dance work
Image courtesy Philadelphia Dance Collection, Temple University Libraries special collections department
|This glossy postcard, on display in Paley Library as part of the exhibit “Placing Dance in New Communities: Preserving the Talley Beatty/Philadanco Legacy,” was used to advertise Philadanco’s 27th Annual Spring Concert Series in 1997. Temple Libraries maintains the highly regarded modern dance company’s archives in its Philadelphia Dance Collection, selections from which go on exhibit Sept. 28, in conjunction with a Philadanco performance of Beatty’s solo “Mourner’s Bench” in Paley Library.
As part of the New York City dance community in the 1980s, student and performer Mary E. Edsall witnessed as the AIDS epidemic took the lives — and legacies — of many talented and promising choreographers.
"Modern dancers were passing away young, and their works had not been preserved," she said. Now, as a dance archivist and educator, Edsall has made a mission of documenting and saving works that otherwise might be forgotten and lost forever.
Founder of the Philadelphia Dance Collection at Temple University Libraries, Edsall, along with two partners, is using a $51,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and an additional $20,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to reconstruct a significant choreographic work: acclaimed African-American choreographer Talley Beatty's 1947 piece Southern Landscape.
Inspired by Howard Fast's book Freedom Road, this early work by Beatty addresses the brief social and political advancement of freed slaves after the Civil War, followed by the formation of the Ku Klux Klan and its subsequent persecutions.
The project, "Placing Dance in New Communities," reconstructs Beatty's piece from written and recorded fragments, but more so from the living legacy he left in the minds and bodies of dancers he collaborated with before his death in 1999. Dancers at Philadanco, Philadelphia's acclaimed modern dance company, are learning the piece under the direction of those in the company who worked closely with Beatty.
Philadanco's performance of Southern Landscape will take place on Sept. 30 at Bryn Mawr College, on Philadelphia's Main Line, the culmination of a weeklong series of talks and performances.
The goal of "Placing Dance in New Communities" is more than simply performing a work for an audience; it is documenting both the reconstruction process and the result, and also bringing the work and dance company out to Philadelphia's suburbs.
"We are trying to bridge that gap that occurs too often between cities and their suburbs," said Linda Caruso Haviland, director of dance at Bryn Mawr. "We're happy to be able to bring Philadanco and choreography by Talley Beatty to audiences in Bryn Mawr and the surrounding communities, where they may know little about him or his work."
Two group rehearsals of the piece's opening and one rehearsal of the famous solo "Mourner's Bench" have been filmed, and dancers and directors have been interviewed about their experiences. The footage will be preserved in Temple's Philadelphia Dance Collection, and viewing copies will be given to Bryn Mawr.
"This is about capturing the performance the moment it happens through planned documentation," Edsall said of the process. "Our role is to ensure documentation and place it in the legacy so it can be accessed and used."
"I think it's important that this work be preserved," said Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown, who worked frequently with Beatty. "Many of our dancers are young and didn't know Talley personally. Dancers can get caught up in what's popular; a lot of them have no idea of those upon whose shoulders we stand. This is a wonderful opportunity for them."
"Also, we've never toured this piece, except in New York and Philadelphia. This is an opportunity for college students who come from all over the country to learn and take advantage of what's around them."
Bryn Mawr's Caruso Haviland agreed, adding that Philadanco's involvement adds an additional layer to the project's importance. "This project showcases the artistry and the historical work of Philadanco, a pioneering company whose mission has always included providing a forum for African-American dancers and choreographers. And it also highlights the work of Talley Beatty, an extremely talented and influential choreographer in the 20th century."
"We have a responsibility as dance archivists to do more than just buy books," Edsall said. "We have to go out into the community and document."
A closer look at Talley Beatty's 'Southern Landscape'
Sept. 26: Master class at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (not open to the public).
Sept. 27, 7 p.m.: Lecture on Talley Beatty and his work by John O. Perpener III. (author of African-American Concert Dance: The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond ). Bryn Mawr College.
Sept. 28, 3 p.m.: Performance of Southern Landscape solo "Mourner's Bench," part of the third annual Philadelphia Dance Heritage Day. Coincides with the exhibit opening of "Placing Dance in New Communities: Preserving the Talley Beatty/Philadanco Legacy." Temple University, Paley Library lobby. A reception follows.
Sept. 29: Master class at Bryn Mawr. Call to reserve space: 610-526-5208.
Sept. 30, 8 p.m.: Philadanco performs Southern Landscape at Bryn Mawr College, Goodhart Hall.
Temple's Philadelphia Dance Collection and Philadanco
The Philadelphia Dance Collection was established in 2001 and functions as a collaborative initiative of the Temple University Libraries, the Esther Boyer College of Music and Dance, and the greater Philadelphia dance communities. Represented in the collection are the archives of the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, South Street Dance Company, Dance Advance and the Temple University department of dance, among many others.
Included in the Dance Collection are archives of Philadanco, chronicling the company's 35-year history of performing modern dance for the Philadelphia community and the world.
"Philadanco is one of the cornerstone collections in Temple's dance collection," said Mary E. Edsall, the collection's founder.
Selected programs, posters and costume designs from Philadanco's history, especially highlighting their productions of work by choreographer Talley Beatty, will be on view in Paley Library beginning Sept. 28 through Oct. 31.
- By Betsy Winter