Last week was chock-full of educational, inspiring experiences for me. First, I attended the COSA-NAGARA-SAA Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. This was my first time attending an SAA conference, and it was also my first time visiting D.C. Second, after the conference ended, I stopped in Columbus, OH for a few days to look at the Carl Wolz Collection at The Ohio State University’s Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute. Below are highlights from my travels.
The theme for this year’s annual meeting was “Archives Records: Ensuring Access.” I was most interested in sessions related to digital records and digital archives.
The first session I attended was “Session 101 – Getting Things Done with Born-Digital Collections.” Featured on this panel were Brian Dietz (Digital Program Librarian, North Carolina State University Libraries), Gloria Gonzalez (Digital Archivist, University of California, Los Angeles), Jason Evans Groth (NCSU Libraries Fellow, North Carolina State University Libraries), Ashley Howdeshell (Associate Archivist, Loyola University Chicago), Dan Noonan (e-records/Digital Resources Archivist, The Ohio State University), and Loren Sorenson (Digital Conversion Specialist, Library of Congress).
One of the overwhelming messages that came out from that session was that there is no perfect tool for managing digital records. Rather, each institution is doing what they can with what they’ve got (e.g. technical knowledge, staff time, money). Jason Evans Groth stressed the idea of stringing together many tools to achieve the goals of access and preservation. At his institution, creating a simple workflow with dynamic documentation has allowed his staff the flexibility and direction to maintain their digital collections. Daniel Noonan focused on the idea of doing something now, not waiting for the perfect tool to come along. Noonan shared his professional philosophy that it’s not his job to preserve digital objects forever; rather, he is responsible for ensuring the transfer of digital objects into the hands of the next generation of digital resource managers.
Carl Wolz Collection
Carl Wolz (1932-2002) was an innovator and leader in dance instruction, documentation, education, and public performance. After serving in the Navy during the Korean War, Wolz went on to major in Art History at the University of Chicago. He then attended Julliard School for dance and later worked with the Lucas Hoving Dance Company. In 1962 he received a fellowship to study Asian dance at the University of Hawaii. Wolz later became a faculty member at UH, directing and expanding the dance program there for almost two decades. After leaving UH, Wolz taught dance in Japan and Hong Kong, and later founded the organization that would eventually become known as the World Dance Alliance. For more information on Wolz and the contributions he made to the dance world, you can read the biography portion of the New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts’ Carl Wolz papers collection description.
Pictures courtesy of Wayne Harada, “University remembers innovative dance director”, Honolulu Advertiser, 2/1/2002.
The Carl Wolz Collection is part of the Dance Notation Bureau Collection at the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute (TRI), which is housed in Thompson Library at The Ohio State University. Nena Couch, Head of Thompson Library Special Collections and member of DHC’s Board of Directors, invited me to view the collection on my way back from SAA. In anticipation of my visit, I viewed the collection’s finding aid, and prioritized the folders I wanted to look at. My priority list focused on the materials relevant to hula and other dances in Hawaiʻi.
Quick side note: it was such a pleasure visiting with Nena – she was so kind and welcoming. Speaking with her throughout the day was both educational and motivational. Her background and work in performing arts archives is unparalleled.
Shortly after I arrived at TRI, Nena introduced me to Rachael Riggs Leyva, a former DHC fellow who is currently working toward her PhD in Dance Studies at OSU. Rachael holds Advanced Theory and Elementary/Intermediate Teaching certifications through the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB). Rachael’s background in music and dance (specifically ballet, tap, and modern) contribute to her work in Labanotation. Wolz was also heavily involved with Labanotation, and are were quite a few dance scores in the Wolz Collection.
Labanotation is a dance notation system – it uses a set of standardized symbols to analyze and record human movement. The system was first introduced by Hungarian Rudolf von Laban (1879-1958) in 1928. Ann Hutchinson Guest, known as the leading expert of Labanotation, made great contributions to the system and promoted its use in the United States. For a brief introduction to the mechanics of Labanotation and dance scores, visit the DNB’s website.
Using her background in Labanotation, Rachael was able to reconstruct one of the dance scores in the Wolz Collection. The dance was for a hula to the song “Lovely Hula Hands.” Watching Rachael work through the dance score and put together the feet, hip, arms, hands, and head movements for the hula was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my entire life.
As a hula practitioner, watching someone with no prior background in hula translate symbols on a page to actual, physical body movements was just amazing. I’ve only learned hula face-to-face from a kumu (hula master, instructor) – my kumu will demonstrate a motion, then we’ll repeat it, and then she’ll give us feedback and point out any adjustments that need to be made. But Rachael was able to execute motions by reading symbols on a page! That difference in the mode of transmission of dance is what made watching Rachael such an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me. My work at MP+D focused heavily on video as a tool for the transmission and preservation of dance, and I wrote previously about the shortcomings associated with such a tool for such a task. My response to Labanotation is similar – it isn’t the singular, perfect tool for dance transmission and preservation, but its advantages warrant its use in a comprehensive collection of tools for dance transmission and preservation.
The “scholar” part of me was excited by the experience, too. There, at The Ohio State University, are these materials related to hula, a dance from Hawaiʻi, which is located more than 4,400 miles from Columbus, OH. And not only was there a significant physical separation from the point of origin of the materials, but there was also a temporal separation – the materials I looked at two weeks ago were created 30 to 50 years ago. Thirty to fifty years ago, Hawaiʻi was in the swing of a cultural renaissance, with traditional Hawaiian practices resurfacing in “mainstream”, everyday life. The materials in the Wolz Collection form a microcosm of that time, offering a lense into a very specific situation (in this case, dance) through which we can extrapolate details representative of a larger history and culture. Think of the implications. Researchers from numerous disciplines (history, dance, anthropology, sociology, etc.) and locations could find value in the Wolz Collection materials.
The materials in the Wolz Collection that most interested me were Wolz’s descriptions of hula: its background, basic steps, and use in Hawaiian culture. In one note, Wolz lists the elements of style that form hula as: “balance of arms, focus of eyes, level of elbows, changing levels, moderate hip sway, lovely hands.” I, myself, would not have thought of defining hula in such parts. But, at the same time, those descriptions make complete sense.
I was also intrigued by the terminology Wolz used in describing certain facets of hula. For example, Wolz described a hula puaa as a “hog dance.” Technically, a puaa can be defined as a hog. However, nowadays, puaa, is usually referred to as a pig. I realize that hog and pig are synonymous. What’s interesting to me, though, is that Wolz used the term “hog.” I wonder if that is due to Wolz’s personal upbringing and background, or whether it’s because “hog” was the prominent term in Hawaiʻi at the time.
Additionally, Wolz provides the following definition for a hula kuhi: “Pointing dance. (sitting). Point out things in answer to questions.” My hula experience defines a hula kuhi similarly as a sitting hula where the hands are the prominent gesture-makers. However, I have not done a hula kuhi where I’ve pointed out things in answer to questions. I wish there were more references for hula kuhi in Wolz’s notes. It would be interesting to determine if hula kuhi were exclusively answer/question dances during Wolz’s time in Hawaiʻi.
I’m still in the process of going through all of the notes and pictures I took while looking at the Wolz Collection, and I continue to learn new things about hula and Hawaiʻi from the collection materials. The whole experience at TRI reminds me of an ʻōlelo noʻeau (traditional Hawaiian proverb): “ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi,” which translates to and is described as, “All knowledge is not taught in the same school. One can learn from many sources.” Hula is a tradition that has been practiced in my family for the past seven generations, and I have practiced hula for more than fifteen years. In consideration of all of the knowledge that comes with that background, I was so excited (personally, professionally, and academically) to gain new insights into hula from the Wolz Collection. Such an experience reminds me of the power of archives to transcend the boundaries of time and space in their mission to preserve and make available knowledge and information.
Many, many thanks to Nena, Libby, DHC, and IMLS for creating this experience for me!