The Siobhan Davies Archive

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Michelle Lefevre

If you've written a biography or you have a personal archive then chances are you've been around for a while and have a reason for said archive or biography. Siobhan Davies is one such person and her company, appropriately named Siobhan Davies Dance Company, has released an online archive of her works from 1977 to the present.

The archive is located at the unwieldily but easy to remember siobhandaviesarchive.com website address. First things first, you have to register before you can get access to anything. Normally we frown upon unnecessary registration and it appears the only reason for doing so is the sites built in "scrapbook" feature, more of which later.

Registration is easy enough though, it takes but 60 seconds and asks for precious little information, although a password confirmation box is a must these days and the archive lacks such a small but significant tool to aid the user. If you type your password wrong when registering (easy enough since you can't see what you're writing) you have to go through the whole password recovery procedure.

The Dusty Archive

Once you're in you get full unfettered access to the entire archive. The main point of interest is the "Dance Works" section which includes a complete list of all Ms Davies creations over the past 30 years or so starting with the newest stuff first.

The pieces are presented graphically, using a small still image, with three small icons under each image giving you quick access to relevant information about that particular work.

When you select a particular piece (for example: 'In Plain Clothes' from 2006) you are taken to a page containing detailed information on that work. So far, so simple.

Each piece has media related to it (photos, video, documents, etc) all listed on its own page. If you click on "movies", for example, all of the available videos for that work roll down before your very eyes and you simply click on the thumbnail to view the video. The video material available, depending on the piece, ranges from rehearsal footage through interviews to full length presentations from multiple angles.

Photographs are similarly presented with a thumbnail and a high resolution version of each image many of which are editorial in nature.

Many of the works also have text documents attached to them in the form of scanned PDF's of original rehearsal notes. Dance students and scholars will be particularly fascinated with this aspect of the archive. If you are diligent enough you can probably find some great little nuggets of information on the creative process, or maybe not!

Some of the PDF files are rather large (over 200Mb in size) and the site is not particularly fast so be prepared to be patient.

The Video

Of course the most important aspect of a site like this has to be the video. It's all about Ms Davies' work so if the video is not up to scratch then you're not going to learn much if you've never seen any of these pieces in the flesh.

Because the site is showcasing video of full length works, some more than an hour in duration, then how good the video is comes down to how much the company can afford to pay in hosting and bandwidth costs. Since Siobhan Davies Dance Company is not Apple or Microsoft or Google then we have to surmise that financial resources are going to be tight.

This is reflected in the quality of the video available to the users of the archive. If we scored things out of ten we would give it a five. It's watchable but it's not going to blow your mind in terms of quality or sharpness.

When you click on a video to start it playing it's presented in a custom Flash player "inline" with the rest of the page content. There is a full screen button but unless you are going to stand really far back from your monitor then we do not recommend using it. It has a soft, fuzzy quality about it but the sound is clear and you can scrub back and forward, albeit awkwardly.

What is remarkable however is that pretty much every work is documented, even 'Sphinx' from 1977. The 1977 video version (performed by London Contemporary Dance Theatre) is a mess of bad sound and dire video quality that most mobile phones could surpass today but it is fascinating to watch. There is also a version of the work being performed by Edge in 1995 that looks slightly better.

At some points in a few of the videos from the 80's you can even see the VHS tape distortion on the digital copy. Back in the day getting your work filmed in high quality was simply not possible unless you had very deep pockets.

More recent works fair better because they were obviously filmed with more advanced equipment but they do retain the soft/fuzzy look thanks to the compression.

Whether or not you can sit and watch a video taped piece of work for more than an hour in this format is for you to decide.

The Scrapbook

An invaluable tool if you are a student or someone doing research is the scrapbook function. Simply put it's a tool that allows you to gather collections of material in one "book" on the site itself and those collections are unique to your account. This makes it easy to compile information for a particular project and retain it for future use.

If you want to put something in a scrapbook then simply hit the "add to scrapbook" button, select the scrapbook of your choice or make a new one and you're done.

Issues

The design of the site is a little on the dull side and could do with a bit of 21st century imagination. Yes, it's an archive but there's no reason it has to look like one. It looks very much like a site designed by a programmer.

When you first load the site it plays some video material with sound. Imagine 50 students opening up the archive in a college computer lab and you have some idea of the pandemonium this could cause. Auto play video with sound is bad, very very bad!

On the front page of the "Dance Works" archive each work has a thumbnail with little buttons on it. Three of these button all lead you to the same place so why are they there? There is also no way to close the quick information box popup one you have opened it.

The aforementioned password confirm box (whereby you type your password in twice to confirm it) upon registration is a basic tool that needs to be put in for the sake of the users. Also missing is the option to keep yourself logged in or not which can be problematic when using something like this on a public computer.

Data Mining

If you overlook the shortcomings, and there are only a few of them, then the Siobhan Davies Archive is a superb resource for students and academics. The sheer volume of video material, photos, background information and details of additional projects carried out by the company over the years are both fascinating and overwhelming.

More recent works, for obvious reasons, have a lot more material associated with them but being able to watch early works from the 70's and 80's is great for those of us old enough to remember them live and a unique opportunity for young dancers and students to see what all the fuss was about back in the day.

Here in TheLabā„¢ we would have approached the presentation of the video differently. Better quality could have been achieved for not much money but it does serve its purpose.

The public at large may be turned off by having to register and the stern presentation of the site but that would be easy to change and as the archive grows over the years maybe it'll soften up a bit.

[ The Siobhan Davies Archive ]

  • S Lorenzati

    hi

    i went to see this archive, man it's massive! so intense, i love it

    s

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