About a year ago I got the call to say my application for the Transforming Archives position at Rambert had been successful: I was to be a trainee in the dance company’s archive. The events of the 12 months that followed have been fun, inspirational and career-changing.
Despite not having considered archive work before I couldn’t resist the idea of rifling through the treasures of Britain’s oldest dance company. After studying dance at university, the thought of working with records and objects that make up the heritage of British dance was thrilling. But what I found is more than a love for all things Rambert; it’s a passion for archival practice. Experiencing the processes and decisions behind managing archives and the challenges in making them accessible has fed my interest and enthusiasm for the sector.
My host organisation, Rambert, dates back to 1926 and the premiere of the first ballet by a British choreographer, A Tragedy of Fashion, by Frederick Ashton. The archive holds over 500 costumes, 700 posters, thousands of images and objects, dance notation, music and footage demonstrating the company’s pioneering work in dance throughout the 20th century right up to present day collaborations. The archive is used by schools, researchers, dancers and dance enthusiasts as well as extensively by the company themselves.
The main focus for my traineeship has been digital preservation and collections management. I’ve explored these skill areas in the form of a project – accessioning, arranging and cataloguing born-digital marketing images. I’ve never thought of myself as a technical wizard but the more I learn about digital preservation the more capable I become in ensuring these beautiful images will be accessible for generations to come. That’s where the excitement comes in – knowing that through my work the aesthetic and research value of these images will not be lost or forgotten.
Around my project I am able to get involved with the day-to-day running of the archive including dealing with enquiries and assisting researchers. My favourite researchers are those who have a personal connection the company as they have such brilliant stories to tell, that bring the archive to life.
I also enjoy helping the learning and participation team with their school workshops that take place in the archive reading room. They use archive material as a source of inspiration for the participants to create new work. The outcomes are always very interesting! I have found assisting in these workshops and also giving tours to groups of people has developed my knowledge of Rambert and also increased my confidence in public speaking.
As the company uses the archive so much itself, there have been many opportunities to get involved with other departments. I have been collaborating over the last six months with our press and marketing assistant in involving the archive in our current social media strategy.It’s wonderful to show how the archive isn’t just about looking back but can also be used to promote the company’s current and future work too (and the response from online followers has been amazing). From creating displays for development events to helping our press manager find content for her latest magazine pitch, I love how the heritage of the Rambert still has so much importance to the company today.
Working as part of a dance company definitely has its benefits – watching private rehearsals of new works, meeting world-class choreographers and recently joining in celebrations for Mark Baldwin, our artistic director’s OBE nomination. Amongst all this I’ve still managed to fit in visits to other archives, such as The Royal Albert Hall and Laban, and attend various training courses and conferences. I also had a week of work experience at The University of Surrey Archive and Special Collections Centre. Next week I’ll be travelling to Galway, Ireland for the Theatre Archive Conference, ‘Performing the Archive’.
In terms of looking to the future, post-traineeship, I am lucky enough to have already started a part-time role as archive and special collections assistant at University of the Arts, London, and I have secured a distance learning place on the MA Archive Administration course for September this year.
A year ago I wouldn’t have thought these things would be possible; I’m very grateful to my host organisation for the experiences I’ve had so far and will be making the most of my last couple of months at Rambert before it’s time for the next trainee.