The frustratingly ephemeral nature of dance has remained a problem despite the development of choreographic notation systems. Film, and later videotape, has provided a form of visual documentation and preservation for dance. In the 1910s and 1920s, the mechanical piano firm Ampico developed instructional films for "name" dancers and choreographers, such as Anna Pavlova, the Broadway dance director Ned Wayburn (1874–1942), and the concert dancers Ruth St. Denis (1878–1968) and Ted Shawn (as Denishawn).
Most early filming was done by ethnographers or individual choreographers for their own use. Early attempts by institutions to document dance include Carol Lynn's 8mm films, made at Ted Shawn's summer workshop, Jacob's Pillow, in Becket, Massachusetts, and Helen Priest Rogers's films, made at the American Dance Festival. These silent films have been restored by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, whose projects endeavor to match music exactly to the movements. Ethnographers have used film to document nonchoreographed traditional, indigenous, and popular dance forms. Major figures have connected the worlds of film and ethnography, including the anthropologists/choreographers Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus and the filmmaker Maya Deren. Rhoda Grauer, a pioneering producer of dance on television, has recently focused on films documenting the traditional arts of Indonesia. Her Libraries on Fire: When an Elder Dies, a Book Burns series includes the portrait of an elderly Topeng performer in Rasinah: The Enchanted Mask (2005).
Mura Dehn (1902–1987) pioneered documentation of African American social dance in her The Spirit Moves films. Collaborating with dancers and historians, she has created films about the Savoy Ballroom swing dancers, rock and roll moves, and break dancing. Documentaries on underground genres within African American social dance have received wide distribution and praise, including Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning (1990), on voguing; Sally Sommer and Michael Schwartz's project Goin' ta Work (released as Check Your Body at the Door , 1994), on club dancing; Jon Reiss's Better Living through Circuitry (1999), on raves; and David LaChapelle's Krumped (short, 2004) and Rize (2005), on the Los Angeles dance movement called krump.
With the development of video technology, documentation has become common. Character Generators, Inc. (Michael Schwartz and Mark Robison) and Studio D (Dennis Diamond) use single and multiple-camera shoots to document dance and performance art for choreographers and historians. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is the depository of record for most dance documentation. Its own projects and those of the Dance Heritage Coalition have identified collections throughout North America and developed standards for cataloging and preservation.
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