1 July 2013 at 1.08pm | Comment on this article
Wikipedia. While to some it may be the academic equivalent of persistently unwrapping sweets during a performance, things are fast changing, and for the better. With an estimated 19 million active users worldwide, Wikipedia is the world’s most popular encyclopaedia. Not only does contributing to the site create a richer bank of information for everyone to share, for editors (affectionately dubbed ‘Wikipedians’) it’s also a way of strengthening writing skills and sharing passions. All the while a dedicated team of volunteer editors proof-read and fact-check.
It was with this in mind that the Royal Opera House recently hosted the first-ever ballet editathon. Along with my fellow Royal Opera House Student Ambassador David Wilson, I joined other ballet enthusiasts and Wikipedia editors to collaborate on articles about one of ballet’s greatest choreographers: Frederick Ashton.
We met in the opulent Crush Room and the morning discussions, led by those who had known him well, provided a fascinating insight into Ashton’s life and work. Chairman of the Ashton Foundation Tony Dyson and its Executive Director Christopher Nourse highlighted the importance of extending choreographic research so that modern-day casts are provided with the maximum amount of information on a ballet and can retain its original spirit.
Following a short film containing moments from some of Ashton’s ballets, we were invited to view a selection of items from the Royal Opera House archives. In existence for over 40 years, the Collection houses over 6,000 costumes, thousands of programmes, and around 1 million photographs.
We divided up into small groups, each working on a different ballet. My co-editor Edward – an experienced Wikipedian – guided me through the editing process. We decided to tackle the article about Ashton’s La fille mal gardée, primarily using albums of press-cuttings for reference. I found that with the simple click of a button we were able to add further detail to the Wikipedia page, from details of original cast members quitting to accidental on-stage injuries. In a 2005 review from the Daily Mail, we learned that during one performance of La fille, Marianela Núñez inadvertently struck Carlos Acosta above the eye with her elbow, causing blood to stain her white dress:
“It simply looked as if there were a few more red petals [on her gown] than there had been before.”
After lunch, we came together to share our findings with the rest of the group: collectively, we had created six new pages and significantly expanded six more, from Frederick Ashton’s Wikipedia entry to the ballet A Month in the Country. The pages we enhanced have continued to grow since the event, and this sense of a shared project is what I found most special about the experience. Not only did we improve online reference material relating to Ashton, we were also inviting others to take part. I hope that our day spent working on articles about Ashton and his works has provided a richer perspective on a well-loved choreographer.
A Mixed Programme of Frederick Ashton’s works will be shown in cinemas in the UK, Austria, Germany and Spain on 15 July 2013.
Future collaborations with the Wikipedia community are under discussion.