The New York Public Library recently digitized thousands of hours of its videos in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division Moving Image Archive, from grainy historic footage to contemporary productions along with preservations of culture. One of these — Annabella — dates from 1897 and shows a dancer swirled in fabric that changes shades.
“Annabella” is Annabelle Whitford Moore, a captivating dancer known for her serpentine dances where she moved a flow of gauzy material like wings, as if caught in a colorful whirlwind. It was a dance that could be a bit shocking for 19th-century audiences, with the body of the performer quickly hidden and revealed, showing flashes of skin. Thomas Edison captured her dances as part of his early recording work, with the hand-coloring on the 16mm Ektachrome print dramatically and abruptly changing her dress from red, orange, and green.
This is the first time the New York Public Library’s dance archive of 24,000 films and tapes has been available to view online. Before, you had to ask for copies individually at the library. Not all of the thousands of videos are viewable off-site, as much of the archive does still require you to be present in the library. However, in terms of accessibility, it’s miles ahead from before.
What you can view without being at the Library for the Performing Arts includes documentation of the Khmer Dance Project featuring the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, and the Dance Division and Core of Culture’s three-year project of recording the Kingdom of Bhutan’s vanishing dance traditions, such as this cacophonous drum dance of Sangay Lingpa. There are also modern pieces like the 2011 Performance Space 122 reconstruction of the intense 1980s Them by Ishmael Houston-Jones, Chris Cochran, and Dennis Cooper, as well as the haunting Water by Eiko & Koma performed in 2011 right in the Paul Milstein Pool at Lincoln Center. Then there’s the 2007 Monet Impressions performed by the Carolina Ballet depicting Monet’s life and his relationships in dance, as well as older works like the 1923 silent film star Alla Nazimova’s Dance of the Seven Veils, and Danse Macabre where two lovers try to escape the plague that frolics as a skeleton around them. However, even when chased by this historical horde, Annabella’s nymph-like presence is still enduringly enchanting in her eternal loop of seeping motion.
More films will continue to be available as the archive undergoes digitization. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division Moving Image Archive can be accessed online and in its entirety on-site at the Library for the Performing Arts (40 Lincoln Center Plaza, Lincoln Center, Manhattan).