Scope and arrangement
American Ballet Theatre was founded in 1939 with the intention of creating an American company of international stature, a museum of the dance, “which would preserve the best of the classic tradition of Europe and at the same time lay the foundation for a new tradition, American in concept and spirit.” Its guiding principle was to encourage collaboration between artists with no single choreographer taking precedence. The records of the company attest to the pursuit of these goals.|||In 1971, the records of American Ballet Theatre and its predecessors, Ballet Theatre and the Mordkin Ballet, were purchased by the Dance Collection of The New York Public Library. In July 1987, with the assistance of a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a two-year project entitled “Preserving America's Cultural Heritage by Providing Access to the Archives of the American Ballet Theatre” was undertaken.|||Comprising 220 linear feet of material, roughly 450,000 items, the collection is really two in one, containing both the records of the Mordkin Ballet, 1936-1939, and those of the much larger Ballet Theatre/American Ballet Theatre, 1939-ca. 1967. (The collection contains papers dated as late as 1978, but documentation of the years after 1967 is minimal.) Consisting mainly of office correspondence, papers, and memoranda, the records are divided into ten distinct subject series.|||Information regarding posters, photographs, music, sound recordings and other material separated from the collection can be found at the end of this finding aid, under "Separated Material".
The American Ballet Theatre records are arranged in ten series:
- 1936-19398.5 linear feet
The Mikhail Mordkin/Mordkin Ballet series is divided into seven subseries: Adminstration, Artists, Productions, Bookings, Promotion, Legal, and Financial. For detailed descriptions see subseries descriptions below.
- 18.5 linear feet
As Agnes de Mille writes in her book, And Promenade Home,Ballet Theatre “has given to the American theatre more artists in choreography, dance, musical composition, orchestration and conducting, costume and scene designing than any other theatrical institution in a like period.” Approximately 648 of these artists are represented in the collection's Artists Correspondence subseries (II.A.), as well as 761 in the Artists Contract subseries (II.B.). Among the most renowed are Alicia Alonso, Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Irina Baronova, Alexandre Benois, Irving Berlin, Eugene Berman, Leonard Bernstein, Adolf Bolm, Benjamin Britten, Erik Bruhn, Marc Chagall, Aaron Copland, Birgit Cullberg, Salvador Dali, Alexandra Danilova, Agnes de Mille, Anton Dolin, André Eglevsky, Eliot Feld, Michel Fokin, Margot Fonteyn, Frederic Franklin, Cynthia Gregory, Robert Joffrey, Nora Kaye, Hugh Laing, José Limón, Eugene Loring, Kenneth MacMillan, Alicia Markova, Leonide Massine, Darius Milhaud, Mikhail Mordkin, Bronislava Nijinska, Rudolf Nureyev, Ruth Page, Roland Petit, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Vittorio Rieti, Jerome Robbins, Richard Rodgers, Arnold Schönberg, William Schuman, Isaac Stern, Igor Stravinsky, Maria Tallchief, Tamara Toumanova, Antony Tudor, and Igor Youskevitch.
Correspondence with many respected writers, librettists, lighting designers, teachers, photographers, actors, and dancers from various other companies can also be found in this series. These include Martha Graham, Valerie Bettis, Doris Humphrey, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Edwin Denby, John Martin, Merce Cunningham, Gene Kelly, Tanaquil Leclercq, Marie Rambert, Cyril Beaumont, Ninette de Valois, Fred Fehl, Arnold Haskell, Boris Kochno, Pauline Koner, Pearl Lang, P. W. Manchester, Carmelita Maracci, Jo Mielziner, Jack Mitchell, Jean Rosenthal, and Walter Terry, among others.
The files for Alicia Alonso, Eugene Berman, Erik Bruhn, Birgit Cullberg, Agnes de Mille, Anton Dolin, Nora Kaye, Toni Lander, David Lichine, Eugene Loring, Alicia Markova, Leonide Massine, Jerome Robbins, and Antony Tudor are of particular note due to the extent of the correspondence.
The Artists series (II.) also includes correspondence with various theatrical unions, primarily the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), concerning contractual negotiations, salary disputes, and the like, as well as draft board and immigration correspondence, and miscellaneous information about company dancers, auditions, and rules.
- 11 linear feet
This series comprises files on 152 ballets either produced or considered by Ballet Theatre/American Ballet Theatre. The quantity of information on each ballet varies from little more than a mention of the choreographer, composer, and cast for one performance, to extensive documentation such as libretti; costume, scenery, and props inventories; lighting plots and stage manager's cue sheets; stage sketches for placement of scenery; and casts. A few files contain costume fabric swatches. The Etudes(Lander) file includes a very detailed lighting plot. The most extensive files are those for Billy the Kid(Loring), Bluebeard(Fokin), Fall River Legend(De Mille), Firebird(Bolm), Giselle (two versions), Helen of Troy(Lichine/Fokin), Interplay(Robbins), Mademoiselle Angot (Massine), and Pillar of Fire(Tudor).
Additional information on ballets presented by Ballet Theatre Workshop and Ballet Theatre Previews are contained in the subseries Ballet Theatre Workshop/Previews (III.B.). The subseries Scenarios/Libretti (III.Q.) contains submitted scenarios and libretti for both realized and unrealized productions.
The Inventories subseries (III.K.) comprises lists of costumes, music, props, and scenery, arranged by individual ballet and by tour. Information such as the running times for ballets, lighting cues, and the purchase of lighting and scenic equipment is located in the Production/Staging subseries (III.L.). The Music subseries (III.M.) contains primarily correspondence, agreements with various music publishers, and information on music recordings by the Ballet Theatre Orchestra. The Wardrobe subseries (III.N.) contains some correspondence about the execution and upkeep of the costumes, and considerable information on orders for shoes and tights.
Of interest are the lists of repertory, proposed programs, rosters of dancers, and casting arranged by individual dancers (for a few seasons), by ballets, and by programs for various booking dates (III.D.E.F.). The Call Sheets/Rehearsal Schedules subseries (III.H.) is extensive; some of the earlier records include information about who was fined and for what reasons. Also included are subseries on Performance Records (the number of times ballets were performed during a tour or season) (III.I.); Lecture/Demonstrations (III.J.); and Royalties and Production Rights (III.O.). Additional information concerning productions can also be found in the individual choreographers, composers, and designers correspondence and contract files in the Artists Series (II.)
- 22.5 linear feet
The Bookings: Tours and Seasons series is the second largest after Financial (X.). It contains chronologically arranged correspondence, concerning both actual and proposed performance dates, with booking agents such as Sol Hurok (IV.B.), American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA) (IV.C.), and Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI) (IV.D.); local impresarios and theatre managers; travel and trucking companies; hotels; state bureaucrats; and government and foreign dignitaries. In addition, there is correspondence between Ballet Theatre/American Ballet Theatre and its advance, field, and press agents, as well as union notices, box office price scales, company rosters, suggested programs and repertory, and some press material. Whereas all booking contracts, advance agent advices, itinerary lists, and information pertaining to television and film appearances made by the company is located here, other series, including Administration (V.) and Promotion, (VII.) contain additional materials relating to the company's bookings.
The Administration series comprises files for individuals and organizations who either worked for or had business dealings with the company. The series includes mainly out-going, incoming, and inter-office business correspondence, telegrams, memoranda, and contracts, and is divided into five subseries.
Correspondence to and from Lucia Chase in her various capacities as director, board member, and patron, constitutes the first of the five subseries (V.A.). In addition to business records, this category also contains a small amount of personal and family correspondence, as well as two date books, honors received, and articles and speeches written by Lucia Chase.
The largest category in the Administration series is the Alphabetical Correspondence (V.B.). This group comprises files for 173 individuals/organizations including small booking representatives, promotional people, company managers, other organizations and companies, Ballet Theatre Foundation board members, stage managers and crew, political figures, advance and press agents, wardrobe personnel, secretaries, regisseurs, financial and legal advisors, and others.
The files for Charles Payne, Richard Pleasant, John Onysko, Jeannot Cerrone, Michel Delaroff, Peter Lawrence, and Oliver Smith are quite extensive and provide particularly valuable, indepth information concerning the day-to-day activities of the organization. Other files, while not as substantial in quantity of items, contain letters pertaining to important events or subjects of interest. For example, the Eugene Berman file includes a letter in which the artist details George Balanchine's remembrances of technical effects in the Maryinsky's production of Giselle. Lincoln Kirstein's file contains a letter proposing a merger between Ballet Society and Ballet Theatre.
The Administration series also contains the more general Chronological Correspondence subseries (V.C.), which concerns requests for information about the company and the school; telegrams; fan letters; invitations to company functions; and contracts with various business associates.
- 11 linear feet
Records relating to the various auxiliary organizations which existed mainly to raise money for the company are located in the Organization and Development series (VI.). Early organizations (VI.A.), such as Advanced Arts Ballets, Ballet Associates, Ballet Institute, Ballet Presentations, Ballet Theatre, Inc., and High Time Productions, are documented. For the most part, however, this series is comprised of records relating to the later Ballet Theatre Foundation (VI.B.), which was founded in 1947. Fundraising information, reports and grant proposals, minutes of meetings, and papers concerning events such as the annual ball constitute this subseries. Correspondence with patrons and trustees, and members of various chapters and committees is also located here.
- 2.5 linear feet
Promotion is a small series which (VII.) contains three subseries: General (VII.A.) relating to publicity, Program Information (VII.B.) relating to both souvenir and house programs, and Program Copy (VII.C.).
- 2 linear feet
Legal (VIII.)is a small series that comprises mainly correspondence with Ballet Theatre/American Ballet Theatre's attorneys, Cohen, Cole, Weiss, & Wharton, 1941-1946/Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison, 1946-1966 (VIII.A.). These items concern general company business, contracts, salary disputes, AGMA, financial and tax matters, and Lucia Chase's financial support of the company. Also included are subseries for Cases (VIII.B.), Leases (VIII.C.) for the various offices and rehearsal studios, Limited Partnerships (VIII.D.) formed for fundraising purposes, and information on Visas (VIII.E.) and Immigration (VIII.F.) for foreign dancers and staff.
- 2 linear feet
The School (IX.) series is a small series that chronicles the development from the Vilzak/Shollar school in 1940, through the Metropolitan Opera School in 1950, up to 1967. Of particular interest are the records of school demonstations and the correpondence with faculty and potential staff, as well as affiliate schools around the country. The Class Schedules subseries (IX.B.) documents the curriculum in great detail, including rosters of teachers and class attendance.
- 126 linear feet
This series constitutes more than half of the entire collection. It documents the day-to-day financial operations of the company, ranging from petty cash vouchers to projected budgets and yearly statements. The growth of Ballet Theatre/American Ballet Theatre over the years and its attendant changes in administrative and accounting personnel are reflected in this series primarily in terms of the nature of record-keeping. The depth of documentation is more complete for some years than others.
This series is divided into ten subseries. For the most part all material is arranged in chronological sequence and, within each year, is further organized into subject headings.
The General subseries (X.A) is the most extensive and spans the years 1939-1978. Arranged chronologically, this category includes records of bills paid, bank statements and correspondence, weekly income and expense vouchers, as well as receipts and invoices for production costs. Items that span several years have been filed by the latest inclusive date. The folders labelled Statements, Budgets, Reports contain projected budgets, cash statements, monthly and quarterly expense reports, and profit and loss statements. Though not consistently detailed throughout, these folders offer a yearly overview of the company's financial operations, which can then be supplemented by examining the accompanying material for that year. Itemized lists, some of which include receipts and invoices, of the company's income and expenses while on tour can be found in folders marked Company Manager's Statements.
Reports detailing Lucia Chase's personal financial involvement with the company appear in the Lucia Chase subseries (X.B.). Though by no means comprehensive, this subseries provides a suggestion of the degree to which Ballet Theatre/American Ballet Theatre relied on her support. Also documented are Chase's other theatrical investments: Hillbright Theatrical Enterprises, an organization designed to solicit and review new play scripts with an eye to producing them; and, in the subseries called Personal Theatrical Investments, productions that actually came to fruition. Finally, papers relating to Chase's 1952-1958 tax case can be found at the end of the subseries.
The Contributions subseries (X.J.), which includes correspondence and monthly, quarterly, and yearly statements of donations to Ballet Theatre/American Ballet Theatre, offers a sense of the extent of outside financial support required to keep the company operating.
Other subseries include Box Office (X.C.); School (X.D.); Taxes (X.E.); Royalties (X.F.), divided by year and by ballet title; Insurance (X.G.), including Workmen's Compensation claims and Unemployment Insurance; Ledgers (X.H.) relating to all aspects of the company's financial matters; and Checkbooks/Cancelled Checks (X.I.).
Generally, the Financial series (X.) can be used to gain an understanding of the overall monetary requirements of a major ballet company, as it mounts new ballets, rehearses repertory, and prepares for its annual tours and seasons.