Kate Dorney, V&A Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance, has lent her words to the ‘Encounters in the Archive’ film. Here are selected quotes from her as the voice of the archive discussing the history of the archive and the role of the archive in capturing performance.

On the scale of the Archive of the Theatre and Performance Collections at the V&A:

‘It’s the biggest collection of its kind in the world, both in terms of its scope chronologically and in its richness and complexity because it’s not just theatre, dance and opera, but also musical and circus and rock and pop and pantomime. It’s everything from 16th century ballet-de-cour costumes for a very rarefied audience, to a 21st century pantomime dame. We have about three million photographs, twenty thousand stage designs, twenty thousand pieces of costumes going from tiny bits of paste jewellery and ballet shoes up to huge headdresses and complete outfits, everything from anonymous designers to costumes by Dior, Picasso and Cecil Beaton.

You are looking at the kind of accumulation of only a century of collecting; of different people bringing their collections together. So one man’s collection of 18th century prints meets another man’s collection of 18th century books, which meets a solicitor’s collection of cartes-de-visite from the 19th century. It’s layer upon layer of material, over the last forty years that the department has existed; we are really just the top layer.’

On the collector and curator who initially established the foundation of a national archive of theatre arts:

‘The foundations of the museum were the result of Gabriella Enthoven, who was a amateur actress, dramatist and society lady, deciding that there must be a Theatre Museum and she campaigned for 13 years to get one. The V&A made the mistake of holding an exhibition of international stage design, in 1922, and she pounced on them, and eventually inveigled her way in with a collection of flat material. She was eighty two when she died and was still working for the museum. She employed assistants during the period that she was at the museum; she paid for all our acquisitions during that period.  Then we acquired lots of really amazing 18th century stage designs. There is still a bequest that we use to buy material to keep in her name.

On whether performance can be archived:

“We are always keeping the remains, the constituent parts, but then that’s what most museums are doing. It’s like the Imperial War museum. They don’t archive war, they archive material to do with war. We are all very wedded to the idea of performance being ephemeral; we like to valorise that aspect of it, because that’s what makes it special. It’s unique.”

Photograph by Donatella Barbieri
The V&A Theatre and Performance Archive is at Blythe House, London. Please click here for access to the appropriate V&A website page.