The Royal Academy of Dance Digital Past

It’s a measure of the pace of technological change that comparatively recent archive materials now pose challenges in trying to retrieve their secrets.

Adeline Genée Port de Bras as taught by Sissie Smith and Sybil Spencer. Danced by Pippa Vickers, music composed and played by Ann Hogben. Filmed in January 1979, © Royal Academy of Dance

In 1977, Bryce Cobain was appointed as notator and assistant librarian at the Royal Academy of Dance. During his tenure (sadly he died in 1987) he also recorded many college performances, syllabus demonstrations, and other events, on video for posterity. The recordings were made on U-Matic video cassettes – an obsolete format – and have been inaccessible for more than 20 years. In 2017, the Philip Richardson Library partnered with Bristol-based company Greatbear, who specialise in the restoration and digitisation of old video and audio tapes, to transfer the footage to digital files.

Some of the recovered footage includes the original recreation of the Adeline Genée Port de Bras, which was introduced into the Solo Seal Award in 1979. Recordings of the Children’s Syllabus from 1979 included the new Senior Grade for girls and boys and were available to view by appointment only at the Royal Academy of Dance headquarters. In 1983 the first colour recordings of the Children’s Examination Syllabus for girls (Pre-primary – Senior Grade) were made available for sale or hire and included examples of the free work in the Pre-Primary and Response to Music in the Grades.

College performances captured on video include Winds of Change – a ballet choreographed by 3rd year students, under the direction of Gill Anthony, and presented at the Adeline Genée Awards, at Sadler’s Wells in 1980. Several of the College choreography workshops were also recorded during this period and the newly available video footage greatly enhances the existing archive documentation pertaining to this annual event.

Retrieval of these videos from an obsolete medium has added invaluable material to the RAD Heritage archive. We hope that we will be able to resurrect more material in the future.