This post was written by Rachel Beaumont of the Royal Opera House and was originally published here. Re-used with kind permission.
Try to describe Wikipedia to someone who’s never heard of it and they won’t believe you. A free encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, which is actually useful? But you’ve never likely to have that conversation anyway; with more than 6 billion page views a month, Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website – and an amazing resource for the sharing of knowledge on a global scale.
Wikipedia is a work in progress, and dance is one of the areas that needs improvement. At the Royal Opera House we’re passionate about sharing our love of ballet and opera with the world – and Wikipedia is one of the best ways to do that. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Wikimedia UK to host a number of ‘editathons’ – focussed sessions to improve particular articles. In our previous editathons – on Ashton and MacMillan – we opened the invitation to everyone. But this time we turned our attention to the ROH Student Ambassadors.
The ROH Student Ambassadors are selected from the ROH Students scheme to be passionate advocates for the work of the Royal Opera House within their respective universities. They’re passionate, creative and confident, and share our love for opera and ballet. We invited them to an evening performance of Swan Lake, and in the afternoon set them to work on editing Wikipedia on a subject of their choice. Joining us were experienced Wikipedians Tim Riley and Jonathan Cardy, who provided invaluable insight into the ins and outs of editing.
The Ambassadors made tremendous improvements to a wide range of articles. Some chose to focus on Swan Lake, and worked on the pages of original choreographer Lev Ivanov, producer of The Royal Ballet’s production Anthony Dowell, and dancers Jonathan Cope and Derek Rencher, who created roles in the premiere of Dowell’s 1987 production.
Others began work on the huge task of improving John Cranko’s status on Wikipedia, whose minimal presence in the encyclopedia does not reflect his significance in 20th-century ballet. They improved his article, and created an article for Onegin, one of Cranko’s most popular ballets.
The others looked to figures and works from across the history of ballet: Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of the Imperial Theatres and a crucial figure in the creation of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker; Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations; Royal Ballet dancer Melissa Hamilton and Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer Jenna Roberts; and choreographer Hofesh Shechter, whose first work for The Royal Ballet has its premiere this month.
Alicia Horsted, Student Ambassador for the Open University, said: ‘As a Wikipedia user I really appreciate the articles that are available, so to be able to add or create something to help other people who would like an insight into a potential interest, or further the knowledge of die-hard fans, is absolutely brilliant. I found the experience addictive and it really captured my attention (which is hard for someone who is fidgety and easily distracted!). I can’t wait to continue the work I began in the editathon’.
Steven Cuell from Oxford University ‘spent the day researching the life and work of Lev Ivanov, whose work (and Wikipedia page!) is often forgotten under the shadow of Marius Petipa. It was exciting and rewarding to spend a day sharing knowledge that will, in its own little way, make information more accurate and accessible for ballet lovers everywhere’.
Kathleen Greene from the London College of Music said: ‘Wikipedia is such a helpful resource to many that being part of the editathon made me feel like I was contributing to something hugely important. And as a bonus, it was all to do with the arts! A great experience definitely worth trying’.
Jonathan from Wikimedia UK summarized: ‘It was lovely to be able to work with such a lovely bright bunch of people!’
Is there anything you’ve noticed isn’t on Wikipedia and should be? Then get cracking! Find out more about how to edit Wikipedia.