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Ann Barzel

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Ann Barzel portrait, photo by Cynthia HoweAbout

Ann Barzel contributed to the study and preservation of dance in many ways: as a writer, lecturer, founder of the Chicago Ballet Guild, adviser to the U.S. government on its commissioning and touring programs, and as an amateur camera-woman whose films of live performances are often the only available record of 20th-century dance and dancers. Born in 1905, Barzel began studying dance as a child, and performed ballet and modern dance in Chicago, which remained her home base throughout her life. Early on, however, Barzel began to focus on writing about dance, reviewing for general interest newspapers and writing for specialty publications such as Dance Magazine, where she remained an adviser until her death in 2007. Shooting in theaters with a silent, wind-up 16mm camera, she recorded seminal works, such as Jerome Robbins’s ballet debut Fancy Free, of which no other footage exists.

As a collector and documenter, she built extensive dance archives, which are now available for study at the Newberry Library in Chicago and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. As an organizer, Barzel was the driving force behind the Chicago Ballet Guild (1940-1962), a predecessor of late-20th-century regional ballet in America. While earning a living as a public school math teacher, Ann Barzel devoted her boundless energy to advancing the status of dance in America.

Pictured right: Ann Barzel in 1996 with some items from her vast collection of dance materials. Her donations became core components of several major dance archives, including Chicago’s Newberry Library and the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library. (Photograph by Cynthia Howe, from the Ann Barzel Collection, Newberry Library)

Ann Barzel portrait, courtesy of Newberry
Ann Barzel portrait, courtesy of Newberry
Pictured: Ann Barzel with two of the cameras she used to film dance performances, in the 1940s (pictured left) and in later life. She often shot from the wings, the prompter’s box, or the audience, and her footage is the sole film documentation of many seminal 20th century dance performances. (Photos from the Ann BarzelCollection, Newberry Library
Ann Barzel portrait, courtesy of Newberry








Pictured left: Ann Barzel (pictured far right) teaching a ballet class, ca. 1950s. Her dance training and performing experience enabled her to write about dance with a thorough understanding of technique and vocabulary, and to clearly explain these to her readers. (Photo from the Ann Barzel Collection, Newberry Library)

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