University of Maryland dance professor Karen Bradley received $25,000 from the Future of Information Alliance and the Robert F. Deutsch Foundation to explore the use of a collection of dance films made by folklorist Alan Lomax. Lomax made thousands of dance films during his world travels in the 1950s and ’60s. Bradley hopes to digitize four of the films over the next year to allow others access and open up dance conversations.
“For example, one of the films is of Kandyan dance from Sri Lanka,” she says. “We have a performance studies doctoral student from Sri Lanka here at UMD. Once that film is digitized, we can ask him to lead a conversation about how the dance has changed. It’s all about contextualizing the data in cultural knowledge.”
Eventually, she hopes to work with software developers to create an application that can tag and annotate the dance data inside of Lomax’s films. “This way,” she explains, “when we identify, for example, trace forms [a Laban Movement Analysis term for paths of a dancer’s limbs through space] in a film, that will get marked onto the film itself, and that marking goes into a database that’s searchable. Then you can go into the database later and see every film that has that trace form.”
Photos from top: by Andrew Barker, courtesy of UMD; courtesy of the Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress