American Ballet Caravan Intro, Part 2: More Datasets

In the previous post, I wrote about some of the challenges I was facing to clean datasets based on letters from the Rockefeller Archive Center and certain New York Public Library Performing Arts Library collections. Since then, I have reviewed and manually entered material from two more important collections: one that provides concrete anchors for much of the previously less certain data, and another that ventures into the realm of historical fiction.

The former comes from the New York City Ballet’s meticulous archives, which include everything from bulletin-board notices instructing dancers where and when to receive particular shots before departure, to invaluable budgetary paperwork. These critical documents revise certain previous assumptions. For example, they clarify the dates, times, and types of performances in particular cities, thus identifying which fifteen cities mentioned in previous documents the dancers performed in, versus which of the total sixty they traveled through or only visited as tourists. This lends itself to cleaner timelines, or even exploratory maps that chart number of shows per city versus population. At the same time, it is worth noting that these only mark where dancers performed, but not durations of travel or interim stops along the way.

These documents also foreground mobility capital. While my previous data on types of transportation had been piecemeal, the budgets meticulously records amounts spent on trains, planes, cars, and busses. I have already made certain selections by only entering those used to transport dancers longer distances (ie: from an inland city to a port city in order to take a boat), rather than also including shorter rides, for example the taxi from a train station to a hotel. A necessary decision going forward will be whether to only trace the movement of the larger group as a whole or whether to also include accessory movements, for example of Lincoln Kirstein back to the US to request deferrals of male dancers’ draft orders, or the flight taken by an injured dancer in order to catch up with the train-based group after staying behind.

Another new opportunity suggested by the NYCB archives comes from the paperwork collected for the purposes of blanket and individual visas. This include lists of the dancers’ and other personnel’s places of birth and citizenship, which reinforce the disparate forms of contact engendered at a person-to-person level by such a tour. Beyond the scope of this project, there are also opportunities for material histories that focus on props, costumes, etc., such as logs of replacements and repairs or the fact that the dancers left New York with 550 pairs of pointe shoes.

I said there were two new source collections. The second is a 400-page “fictional” unpublished manuscript that was written by one of the dancers while on tour, and comes along with a key to a good portion of the pseudonyms used. In addition to a lot of gossip, the account fills out some of the empty spaces between the dots on the map. Although not consistent, this perspective yields more data both on the locations in between, and on the duration of those transitions. Events take place, for example, where boats stopped between New York and Rio de Janeiro, or on the way up the west coast from Vina del Mar to Lima.  Likewise, the lengths of particular journeys are mentioned, as is the tendency to travel through the night.

Even amid the interpersonal relations of bored dancers far from home, this manuscript further continues to fill out the dancer’s own interconnected worlds, such as the Russian wardrobe manager who had already done two tours of South America with another ballet company.

Together, these offer exciting new resources, and lots of angles from which to begin!