THE INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DANCE
Edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen
Oxford University Press
6 volumes, $1,250
In comparison with music, art, architecture, and theater, the field of dance is still in its infancy. Only within the past few decades has it been taken seriously enough as an art form to warrant study of its history. Prior to that, university-level study of dance was often subsumed into programs in physical education and restricted primarily to technique and composition.
The young researcher or student looking for a definitive source of basic historical information was out of luck. As the legendary choreographer Agnes de Mille once lamented, "Nothing is comprehensive, nothing catholic, nothing sweeping, and this we must have."
The dance world finally has just such an inclusive reference source with the publication of the six-volume "International Encyclopedia of Dance." The first-ever multivolume encyclopedia devoted to dance and the first to represent the full spectrum of dance throughout history in more than 100 countries, it features nearly 2,000 in-depth articles, from theatrical forms to ritual and social dance.
"Generations to come will regard 'The International Encyclopedia of Dance' as the definitive work in dance history," says Madeleine Nichols, curator of the Dance Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. "As a reference work covering all forms of dance on a global scale, its value is immeasurable; as a library resource, it is indispensable."
Choreographer Jerome Robbins called it "a monumental achievement, a milestone in the history of dance."
A project of Dance Perspectives Foundation Inc. and almost 25 years in the making, the encyclopedia is the result of a mammoth, cumbersome process, involving more than 650 contributors from around the world. The inquisitive reader can encounter not only major articles on the principal theatrical dance traditions of the West, but information on the dance-drama traditions of India, China, Japan, and Indonesia. Folk and social dances from around the world are discussed in depth, as are facets of dance within popular culture, such as ice dancing and ballroom dancing.
Articles represent thorough scholarship, yet are generally easy to read and understand. A quick browse provides an irresistible enticement to further explore the world of dance, from the dance "Abraxas" to a portrait of the Zurich Ballet.
The set's only deficiency is in biographical material, having deliberately opted to include few entries on contemporary dancers. However, most performers and choreographers of any significance (and even quite a few of rather obscure note) are given solid documentation.
Because the encyclopedia is priced at $1,250, most people will have access to it only through schools and libraries.
* Karen Campbell is a freelance arts writer who lives in Brookline, Mass.