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We've all gotten lost in the wonderful wilds of YouTube. There are dance treasures to be found there, if you look hard enough—grainy archival clips, or snippets of Russian ballet performances stealthily filmed by audience members.
But until very recently, the real dance video treasure trove could only be accessed from the third floor of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. There, the Jerome Robbins Dance Division houses an astonishing number of dance films—more than 24,000 videos of nearly everything you could imagine. It's the dance film mothership.
Those of you who haven't been able to make a pilgrimage to the library, however, aren't out of luck: Now some of the Dance Division's video riches are available online. Thousands of hours of film have already been digitized, with more to come. Though most must still be watched at the library, the collection available offsite is still fascinating, and fascinatingly diverse. There are exquisitely detailed performances by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. There's Eiko and Koma's hypnotic Water, as danced outdoors at Lincoln Center in 2011. There are Carolina Ballet's productions of Cinderella and Peter and the Wolf, and interviews with the likes of Julie Kent, Ethan Stiefel and Wendy Whelan from the "Speaking of Dancing" project.
There's also this gem from 1897, one of the earliest dance films ever made. Titled Annabella, it features Annabelle Whitford Moore in a swirl of billowing fabric, performing a "serpentine dance" first popularized by pioneer Loïe Fuller. The videographer was none other than Thomas Edison, who hand-tinted the film so that Moore's dress appears to change color over the course of the dance—an artistic recreation of the dramatic colored lighting used by artists like Moore and Fuller.