Dance is the most ephemeral of the performing arts and, at the same time, each new dance creation and aesthetic development builds on previous works, either by continuing or diverging from continuing or breaking from previous artistic traditions and concepts.
Important aesthetic and pedagogical contributions from dance creatives/artists have had a major impact on the development of dance in German and worldwide. Yet, different to musical or spoken theatre, often no text or written dramaturgic framework is preserved to impart cultural knowledge. The diversity of dance art in the past and present would be entirely lost if documents and materials of dance art were not preserved in archives and collections.
The German dance archives preserve a wealth of roughly one million documents about the history of dance. This includes not only manuscripts, letters and reviews, but also photos, costumes, films and videos. It is important to preserve this cultural inheritance and to make it visible for the coming generations even beyond national boundaries. Five dance archives are working together since 2007 as the Association of German Dance Archives (VdT): The Performing Arts of the Academy of Arts Berlin, the German Dance Archive Cologne, the German Dance Film Institute Bremen, the Mime Centre Berlin and the German Dance Archive Leipzig. Together they are working to present their collections in the internet and in particular, to find solutions to the many legal, technological and factual difficulties which may arise. The digitalisation and online presence of the material are to provide answers to research questions, as well as to share the diversity of dance with a broad public, as already occurs in several other neighbouring European countries (particularly France, Belgium and England). Shared projects also provide links between the dance archives’ work.
Of particular importance is the development of a future-assured database, which meets today’s demands for digital formats and ease of access. The VdT has initiated various projects.
In collaboration with the Performing Arts Information Service (Fachinformationsdienst Darstellende Kunst FID), the VdT archives have linked metadata from collections with the database of the FID. Here, one can search through the databases of the VdT archives. This has enabled the archive databases to be linked for the first time, which will facilitate the user’s search and ease of access.
An additional collaborative project is the „Digital Dance Atlas” (Digitale Atlas Tanz - DAT). The DAT was initiated as a pilot project of the programme Tanzplan Germany (2006-2010), supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes). The DAT gives information about personalities, works and the history of dance in Germany from 1900 until today using documents visible online for the first time. The aim of the project of the DAT is a web-based network of information and knowledge from the various collections. Until such a platform can be realised, the Digital Dance Atlas provides a collection that will gradually be expanded.
In the year 2012, the Association of German Dance Archives formulated the required steps for the preservation and accessibility of the artefacts in the German archives: including interlinking databases, completion and indexing, retroconversion, conservation and preservation, digitalisation as well as licensing. Out of over approximately 500 items in five archives, 50 of the most important items were selected according to graded criterea, and the costs estimated, which run at a total of approx. 8.5 million Euros. This excludes contributions from the archives’ themselves, which remain undefined as yet; the largest part is, however, to be gained through a series of coordinated funding proposals. All VdT archives are members of Dachverband Tanz Deutschland (DTD), which can act as legal representative of the Association; in the years 2012-2013, it implemented a series of workshops with experts in IT, dance scholarship, museum professionals, lawyers and representatives of large-scale online knowledge platforms, who brought the archives up to date with the latest technological developments and legal discussions.
Under this heading also falls the symposium of October 2016, „Enable access! How research and art can benefit from the cultural heritage of dance”, at which the dance archives of Austria, Switzerland and German, teachers and researchers discussed the challenges and difficulties of accessibility in today’s digitalised world, and placed the preservation of the cultural heritage of dance at the centre point. In order to realise this aim, the nation and states were called upon to increase activity in this area in order preserve the materials in the long-term and enable access which is fitting to the present time. In this context, participants of the symposium also argued for stronger and better cooperation between archives, education and research.