By Carolina Meneses
Carolina Meneses is Dance/USA’s first Dance Archiving & Preservation Fellow. Her Fellowship, from July-September 2018, is hosted by UCLA Library Special Collections, and her practicum site is Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Read more about the Fellowship program here. This is the third of six parts of Carolina’s blog about her 2018 summer Fellowship. Read the second part here, and the fourth part here.
September 19, 2018
“It is such a privilege to work with the archival materials of one of the world’s most adored African American dance troupes.”
Last week I began my practicum at the Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT). I first saw Lula at this year’s Dance/USA conference in LA when she and her husband Erwin Washington received the 2018 Champion Award during the opening night celebration. I remember Lula took off her shoes and got everyone out of their seats with “This Little Light of Mine.”
For those who do not know Lula, she and Erwin founded the Lula Washington Dance Theatre in 1980. By combining African American contemporary dance and culture with theater that explores history and social issues, Lula’s oeuvre is unique and, most importantly, all her own. The company performs everywhere from China to Alaska. It is such a privilege to work with the archival materials of one of the world’s most adored African American dance troupes.
On my first day, my UCLA mentor Genie Guerard and I met with Erwin and my project coordinator at LWDT, Velma Blue, to discuss different projects and goals for my practicum. I got a tour of all the different places where materials are housed. A large part of the collection consists of audio-visual (AV) materials, many of which are in obsolete formats. Deterioration occurs with each passing day and even more quickly if materials are not stored properly. Even if some of the materials aren’t digitized at once, proper storage will greatly extend their shelf life. As such, accessing and indexing the AV materials is my first priority.
It just so happens that a former Dance Heritage Coalition (now Dance/USA) fellow, Irlanda Jacinto, also did her practicum with LWDT, where she created an extensive index of moving images, slides, and manuscripts. You can read more about her experience in her blog here. Irlanda’s work proved to be very helpful for the company, since they now have better control over their records. Still, there’s a lot of work to do, so that we can ensure that the legacy of LWDT is preserved for the future. Digitizing moving image materials on obsolete formats is a top priority, and my work will support that next step.
I have picked up where Irlanda left off and started with creating an index of video and audio materials. Some of these are in formats I’ve never come across, like DVCAM and MiniDV, which are now more or less obsolete. Luckily, Velma and I met with UCLA’s Head of Audiovisual Preservation Yasmin Dessem and Audiovisual Preservation Coordinator Allie Whalen. Together we reviewed the collection and the best practices for storage and format identification. Dessem shared some helpful resources for video format identification. We also reviewed the AV materials inventory template from the Dance/USA Artist’s Legacy Toolkit and slightly modified it to better fit the needs of the collection.
I hope to make progress by working my way through a filing cabinet full of AV material. Having already surveyed the first two drawers I’ve found the majority of the materials are DVDs covering more recent performances and rehearsals, with plenty of duplicates. My goal is to finish surveying the materials by the end of next week. By then I should have received the appropriate storage boxes in order to give these materials a new, safe home.
Carolina Meneses is pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science at UCLA, specializing in archival studies. A second generation Cuban-American from Miami, she received her BA in comparative literature at Smith College where she focused on the intersection of memory, dance, and language. After college, she participated in an archival internship with a dance company based in New York City, which became the foundation for her interest in the contradictory nature of preserving the ephemerality of dance performance for research and reproduction. Carolina is also the recipient of a Mosaic Scholarship from the Society of American Archivists, which provides support for minority students pursuing graduate studies in archival science.
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