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Lincoln center's dance division is one for the books. (Between the covers).

THE THREE YEARS THAT THE LINCOLN CENTER LIBRARY (OTHERWISE known as the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts) spent in limbo while its home was being renovated seemed endless (see Lynn Garafola's report in Presstime News, Dance Magazine, October 2001, page 45). [] During that time, like a bride on her honeymoon, the library began to use some new names. They had to do, of course, with benefactors. The Dance Division is now the Jerome Robbins Dance Division (212/870-1657). There are also the Miriam and Harold Steinberg Reading Room and the Robert W. Wilson Music Circulating Collection. [] Other identities are still in place from before: the Katherine Cornell-Guthrie McClintic Reading Room, the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, the Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, the Vincent Astor Gallery, the Bruno Walter Auditorium, the Lucille Lortel Room, and the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery. Only the Music Division remains pristine, while in toto, the library is now the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center.

Call it what you will, the library and I go back a long time before these monikers. In the '40s, there was a first-floor room at the main library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. It housed the Music Division, with dance as a modest adjunct.

A dance librarian arrived in 1949. She was a young woman in her 20s who sparkled with creative verve and obvious good taste. Perhaps because I spent so much time there, she admitted me into the "backstage" workroom. It was there that I met distinguished historians like Lillian Moore and Dr. Kurt Sachs.

The room was utilitarian and had a friendly, old-book smell. But to me the librarian--her name was Genevieve Oswald--was like Madame Recamier presiding over her salon.

SHE WENT ON TO BUILD THE DANCE library in remarkable ways. Of great historical importance was the Cia Fornaroli Collection, presented by the ballerina's husband, Walter Toscanini. Among important twentieth-century arrivals were the Hanya Holm, Denishawn and Humphrey-Weidman, and Lincoln Kirstein collections.

There are several Isadora Duncan collections, led by those of Irma Duncan and Gordon Craig. But perhaps Oswald's most important accomplishments were the formation of the Committee for the Dance Collection, which facilitated many valuable purchases, and her creation of the imposing twelve-volume Dictionary/Catalog of the Dance Collection and the Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image. (The latter is constantly bolstered by a percentage of Robbins's worldwide royalties from Fiddler on the Roof.)

Oswald was also an ideal person to lead the hegira up to Lincoln Center in 1965. How proud she must have been that dance had now grown into its own discrete research and exhibit space. With its pleasing displays of memorabilia, the Division also became the locale of many a gathering that enabled members of the burgeoning dance world to get to know one another.

When Oswald retired in 1987, her one-person staff had grown to nineteen. She named Madeleine Nichols to be her successor. Nichols was a former staff member who had left to acquire a law degree. While Oswald had been fireworks, Nichols is a steady flame, thoughtful and calmly diplomatic. It was she who shepherded the library through the current transition.

She has also enhanced the Dance Library's public, and even global, role through her knowledgeable work on projects like the dance panel of the New York State Council on the Arts, the arts section of the American Library Association, and the Dance Heritage Coalition.

Under Nichols's aegis the library has acquired the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation Collection, the Rudolf Nureyev and the Jerome Robbins Collections, and the much-sought-after original manuscript of Nijinsky's diary. It also set up a project with the Royal Academy of Dancing whereby, in exchange for cash, New York acquires rare books from London.

But perhaps most prophetic is the library's increasingly bold journey along the Internet highway. Scholars who formerly had to get to the library can now arrange to view research items on the screen at www.nypl.org. And people planning to engage relatively unknown choreographers can confidentially use the Internet to view a range of their works. These are only two of an infinity of possibilities, and the library is now equipped to handle them.

WHEN I LEFT THE LIBRARY AT 40 Lincoln Center Plaza last October after one of the reopening celebrations that attracted a total of 3,900 guests, I stopped to rest on one of the benches that punctuate the grounds. To my right was Henry Moore's monumental Reclining Figure, newly returned to its reflecting pool. To my left was the Metropolitan Opera House, and straight ahead were the Vivian Beaumont Theater and the library with its sparkling glass facade.

The Stephen Koplowitz dancers, engaged to perform a site-specific work for the occasion, were ranged, like rosy caryatids, along the Met's parade of niches. Inside the library, they could also be seen snaking up a staircase and sifting along the second level.

I wasn't too aware of the music being piped into the evening air until the voice of Ethel Merman tossed out I Got Rhythm. So does the Jerome Robbins Dance Division--plenty of it.

Between the Covers is a bimonthly column on people and books. Senior editor Doris Hering has been writing and reviewing for Dance Magazine since 1945.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Dance Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:881
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