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Houlton's Legacy: The Magic of Dance

Acquisition of MDT Records



One afternoon in early 1989 the Curator of the Manuscripts Division received a telephone call from the Building Manager of the Hennepin Center for the Arts, the home of what was then called the Northwest Ballet, a dance company that reflected a very brief merger between the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Minnesota Dance Theatre. He called to let the staff of the Performing Arts Archives know that the Ballet had officially closed its operations here in the Twin Cities and was in the first stages of clearing records from its office in the Center. He was concerned about the disposition of the many years’ worth of documents from the very earliest years of the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

The Curator, his assistant and the building manager rescued from a dumpster a large number of documents; the Curator then drafted an agreement with Northwest Ballet for a donation to the Performing Arts Archives of all the remaining material in the office. The collection of records was enormous and disorganized; it was taken to the Archives to await processing.

Late in 1993 the assistant archivist in the Manuscripts Division learned of a national effort to organize and catalog dance materials held in collections on the East and West coasts. In communication with the project coordinator it was jointly determined that the records of the Minnesota Dance Theatre were crucial to the study of dance in America, and would provide a geographic balance for the project.

The Performing Arts Archives of the Manuscripts Division received funds in April, 1994 to organize and list the contents of the papers of the Minnesota Dance Theatre and School. A grant totaling $963,000 was awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to the Dance Heritage Coalition, a consortium of performing arts libraries and representatives of the dance community. The New York Public Library, a participating institution, administered the two-year overall grant.

The Access Project was a centralized effort to help dance scholars and others determine what research materials were available and where they resided, by describing the materials and entering the information into national databases.

The other institutions which participated in the Dance Heritage Coalition Access Project all have significant national or regional collections in dance. Included are the Harvard Theatre Collection of the Harvard College Library; the Library of Congress; the Dance Collections of the New York Public Library; the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at Ohio State University; the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum; and the American Dance Festival, working with the Duke University Special Collections Library.

The Minnesota Dance Theatre Records form a substantial body of research materials in the performing arts of the Upper Midwest. Access to this collection provides dance and dance history scholars with an unprecedented opportunity to study the operations and productions of one of the longest-lived dance companies in the region. The materials represent more than twenty years of artistic activity.

Barbara Bezat, Associate Curator

Manuscripts Department

University of Minnesota