A graduate costume design class recently visited the Fine Arts Library to learn more about library resources. I was thrilled to be able to share with them excerpts from performances by Sharir+Bustamante DanceWorks, projecting video clips such as 2001’s Automated Body Project on our media wall. To everyone’s delight, we then had the chance to view the actual physical costumes seen in the video footage, examples we now understand as early explorations in wearable technology.
It was exciting to witness the students engage with these artifacts, thoughtfully analyzing form and function through the lens of design; posing insightful questions; and drawing connections to their course material, ongoing discussions, and personal experiences.
This interactive instructional opportunity was only possible through the generous donation of Dr. Yacov Sharir, who gifted his archive to the Fine Arts Library in 2016. Sharir came to Austin in 1978 to start the American Deaf Dance Company and became faculty at UT shortly thereafter. In 1982, the Sharir Dance Company became the professional company-in-residence at the UT Department of Theatre and Dance. (The company later took the name Sharir+Bustamante Danceworks in 1998, acknowledging José Luis Bustamante as co-artistic director). Sharir was an early innovator in the area of dance and digital technology, and his work has had a profound impact not only on the University, but on the Austin modern dance community as a whole.
Sharir passed away on September 29, 2023, at the age of 83, leaving behind a rich legacy as an artist, educator, and mentor. As we remember, honor, and celebrate this legacy, the gift of his archive takes on a deeper meaning, an enduring offering for many more groups of students and researchers to come.
I encourage you to explore the Sharir and Sharir/Bustamante Dance Collection which includes videos, photographs, programs, press materials, art, costumes, and virtual reality equipment. It features the choreography of Sharir and Bustamante through the 2007 final season of S+BDW and beyond, along with the work of many guest artists and collaborators. Owing to the combined efforts of former Theatre and Dance Librarian Beth Kerr, research assistant Katie Van Winkle, and many folks in UT Libraries’ Digitization Services, a large portion of the collection has been digitized, and is openly accessible to the public on Texas ScholarWorks.
Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the UT Libraries Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of, and future creative contributions to, the growing fields of digital scholarship.
How does a dance move? Where might a dancer go? Such questions most likely evoke images of choreography, references to physical steps performed or patterns made across the floor. But dance scholars Kate Elswit and Harmony Bench are tracking movement from a different perspective, following the touring and travel routes of groundbreaking choreographer Katherine Dunham and her dance company from 1930-1960. Their project, Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, documents not only Dunham’s own itineraries, but also accounts for “the over 300 dancers, drummers, and singers who appeared with her; and the shifting configurations of the nearly 300 repertory entities they performed.”
The Katherine Dunham Dance Company was the first African American modern dance company, touring extensively both internationally and across the United States, often disrupting the imposed structures of racial segregation. Dunham was also an anthropologist, author, and social activist, challenging the limited roles and opportunities available to Black women artists.
Dunham’s Data features three core datasets paired with both interactive and static visualizations and contextualized through accompanying essays and related media. Taken together, the materials “provide new means to understand the relationships between thousands of locations, and hundreds of performers and pieces across decades of Dunham’s performing career, and ultimately elaborate how movement moves across bodies and geographies.”
The Everyday Itinerary Dataset spans the years 1947-1960, logging Dunham’s daily whereabouts during a period of consistent international touring, including accommodations, modes of transport, and venues visited. Users can access and mobilize this dataset through an Interactive Timeline of Travel, tracing the global and durational scope of Dunham’s artistic reach. There is also a Well-being Timeline Collage, which I am particularly drawn to, that sequences clippings from personal correspondence, evidencing the emotional labor that undergirded Dunham’s career.
The Personnel Check-In Dataset encompasses the “comings and goings” of company members over time. The visualizations derived from this dataset, for example, the Interactive Chord Diagram, illustrate “who shared space and time together,” offering “a sense of the transmission of embodied knowledge across hundreds of performers.”
I find the visualizations related to the Repertory Dataset to be especially compelling. The Interactive Inspiration Map depicts locations that Dunham identified as sites of inspiration for choreographic works, enlivened by quotations from her program notes; and The Interactive Network of Dunham Company Repertory highlights connections across pieces and performances. These visualizations prompt me to consider the citational and iterative dynamics of choreography and creative process.
Overall, the project gives us a multi-faceted lens to explore how attention to moving bodies can expand and enrich historical inquiry.
Want to know more about Katherine Dunham? Check out these UT Libraries resources: