The Derra de Moroda Dance Archives at the University of Salzburg

Known worldwide as a site of cultural (dance) memory, the Derra de Moroda Dance Archives has been affiliated with the University of Salzburg since 1978 as a center for the research, documentation, and study of dance. Providing important innovative impetus for academic and artistic research, its objective is to foster affiliations and interconnections between dance research closely linked to the original sources and based on historical material, and a contemporary cultural studies perspective. The archive aims to contribute to discussions of issues around approaches to history and cultural heritage from the perspective of dance theory and practice.

The archive is named after its founder, the dancer, choreographer, dancing coach, researcher, and collector Friderica Derra de Moroda (1897–1978). Born in Bratislava in 1897 and initially trained in classical dance, Derra de Moroda debuted as an expressionist dancer at the Vienna Secession. Following guest performances in Central and Eastern Europe, she went to London in 1912, her base until the Second World War and her subsequent move to Salzburg. Derra de Moroda was active in many areas, as a dancer in the revue-like productions of the English music hall, a committed dance teacher of the so-called Cecchetti method, a choreographer, a writer on dance, and eventually also becoming a collector. She dedicated her life entirely to the dance of her time and to that of bygone eras and styles. In the early 1920s, she began to systematically collect a wide variety of dance-related documents, establishing the Derra de Moroda Dance Archives as one of the earliest organizations of its kind in Europe. Friderica Derra de Moroda was closely involved with collecting and conveying knowledge about dance – dancing, choreographing, teaching, writing, and research. Her biography is typical of (a dancer in) the twentieth century: nomadic, veering between different nationalities and cultures. Born in the old Austria, with Greek-Hungarian roots, she followed a path leading her to Munich, Vienna, the Baltic States, Russia, and from Berlin to England, leaving for Germany during the Nazi period, and finally moving to Salzburg. A prolific correspondent on matters of dance, she established a network of contacts both professional and private. As a researcher she was as enthusiastic about Hungarian folk dances as she was on the subject of courtly Renaissance dance and the eighteenth century. Her activities were “dilettantish” in the best sense; they “rejoice” in and “delight” in dancing, yet following no systematic order they lacked critical and political awareness.

The collecting concept behind the archive corresponds in its intentions, content, and structure to the magazine Der Tanz (The Dance), the first German-language dance magazine in the 1920s. It marks an intense kaleidoscopic involvement, that had until then been unknown, with the traditional cultural practice of dance. It impressively demonstrates the broad social, political, and aesthetic significance of dance in the first third of the twentieth century. Friderica Derra de Moroda and the magazine’s founder Joseph Lewitan (1894–1976) were “global players,” who approached historical and then-contemporary dance scenarios in ways that were both open and complex. Retrospective and pro futuro analysis corroborates the ambitious program both in collecting and of the magazine that they pursued. This resulted in the archive focusing on four thematic areas, repeatedly intersecting thematic paths that remain highly relevant today.

Like other collections originating from individuals, the archive displays the tendencies, preferences, and special interests of its founder – typical both of the time and of her – and her particular view of history. Derra de Moroda was more interested in dance history and the structures of dance than in outward appearance and effects. At the center of her research and collecting interest was the documentation of dance, reflected in the collection that evolved over decades. Derra de Moroda’s specific focus was on movement, corporeality and the physical experience of movement.

Over 7 000 books are available for international dance research in the Derra de Moroda Dance Archives, covering dance and such related areas as theatre, costume, stage design, fashion, folklore, and cultural studies across six centuries (sixteenth to twenty-first century). Moreover, it contains music (including original prints from the seventeenth century), libretti (from the seventeenth to the twentieth century), manuscript letters from dancers and choreographers (eighteenth to twentieth century), journals and magazines, an extensive collection of iconographic sources (from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, including paintings, engravings, etchings, lithographs, photographs), from posters, programs, and newspaper cuttings as well as digital media (videos, DVDs, digital publications). To this can be added Derra de Moroda’s personal estate consisting of correspondence, notes, working documents, personal documents, card indexes, costumes etc. Despite the immense variety of the collection, Derra de Moroda’s preferences and research interests are clearly discernible. These include pre-Romantic and Romantic ballet, the Ballets Russes, expressive dance, dance technique, national dance and ballroom dancing, represented in various forms ranging from mere description to an abstract form.

Every cultural memory is not only a memory in language and image, but also in movement. Dance and movement are not only commemorated as metaphors, but can also be experienced and discursively accessed as events; therein lies the crucial conceptual and epistemic key to the Derra de Moroda Dance Archives, from which its impact on contemporary art emerges.