‘By default and design’: a glimpse into the Theatre Museum's 18th-century dance collections

Despite a perverse tendency for some to read ‘Theatre’ as ‘drama’, the Theatre Museum actually covers all branches of the performing arts, with particular reference to Britain - and the amount of dance information within the collection is daunting in its quantity and wide-ranging in its scope. The millions of playbills, prints, designs, books, music and costumes provide a rich yet relatively underused resource for the 18th century dance researcher. How did it come into being and why does it deserve to be better known?

The paper identifies specific material within the Museum collections that relate to 18th and early 19th century dance, and explains how the Museum collections have been built up; some of the material has been acquired by default - in the amassing of general information about performance - and other collections have been deliberately sought - by purchase or gift.

It looks at individual collectors - including Gabrielle Enthoven, Harry Beard, Cyril Beaumont and Hector Bolitho and considers the benefits of Mrs Enthoven’s all-embracing policies, which allow researcher to see their specialist subject within a wider context. A tantalising selection of slides will give an indication of the range of the materials housed in the Museum - designs for French ballet de cour, English satires, Italian costumes, books, artefacts.

However, a collection is useless if not accessible and the final consideration will be given to how the collections are organised and their accessibility to researchers at all levels.

Sarah Woodcock
Symposium Title: 
Dancing Exploded - 2002
Author affiliation: 
Assistant Curator, The Theatre Museum