Effort Discussions: An Open Letter to LMA Colleagues
By Ann Hutchinson Guest - submitted June 6, 2000
Originally posted on LabanTalk, March 24, 2000
In the transmission of this letter it is possible that my highlighting (bold, italics, underlining) will not be appropriately transmitted, I have therefore put certain words in quotes to make them stand out. Also, please excuse multiple postings.
Some of you have known that, for many years, I have been wanting to get certain particular questions answered about the Effort terminology and concepts. Yes, I am daring to question the great master! In the past year or so I have been hoping to bring together a small group of `leading lights' who can help answer my questions and fill in what may well be pockets of ignorance on my part. While I was immersed in the Laban work from the age of 17, and have been in touch since then, I have never undertaken the CMA program and so am not conversant with the higher level developments of recent decades.
Because it is difficult to get people together and to find a convenient time, I thought a start might be made by sharing my questions and concerns in a general way, hence this open letter.
Before I pose the first question, let me explain my general conviction. In developing the Effort material Laban did not go as far as he could have. Had he lived longer, had people come to him with questions, shown him that there were additional needs, particularly for theatrical movement and dance, he would have responded. After he died, Lisa Ullmann became a devoted caretaker, she was not herself an original thinker. When I met with Lisa seeking clarifications, she was not only unable to answer my questions but could not understand that I or anyone had the right to question any of Laban's work. To her and others who followed, such questioning was indeed sacrilege. Later I talked at length about my concerns with Irmgard Bartenieff, who was a close and dear friend, but she seemed unwilling to consider any changes. It is understandable that those who followed her were also wary of making changes, although I know that, over time, others have encountered questions and omissions and the need to make minor modifications, especially to the Effort symbols.
For my questions which follow I am making reference to Peggy Hackney's excellent book Making Connections, believing this to be the most up-to-date book on the subject. The letters PH indicate a reference to this book, mainly drawn from page 220.
Question 1. Why is it called "the weight factor"?
I have never had a satisfactory answer to this.
Lisa Ullmann explained that how much weight you can lift (e.g. a heavy suitcase) shows how much strength you are using.Question 2. One part of the weight factor is called "strong." Strong is usually the active use of physical energy (for whatever reason). How does this relate to "weight"?
Question 3. In daily parlance the opposite of strong is "weak", lack of energy. Where is weak directly stated in the Effort graph?
Lisa Ullmann said weak, relaxed, is not there because, when you are weak or relaxed you are not making an effort, it is not an "effort" and therefore it is not included.
Question 4. In the Effort graph the opposite of strong is called "light". What is meant by the word light?
It seems to embody two distinctly different meanings. One relates to uplift, buoyant, these link with a rising away from the pull of gravity; the other relates to a delicate quality, fine touch which need have no direct relationship to gravity, one way or another.
Question 5. "Uplift" can be slight or very marked, much energy can go into uplift. If strength can be used with uplift, how then can uplift be the opposite of strong?
Question 6. How can Strong make practical use of the force of gravity, as in hammering a nail downward into the floor, and at the same time function in opposition to gravity as in hammering a nail upward into the ceiling or achieving an enormous upward jump? As these facts are true, how can strong be directly linked to the pull of gravity?
Question 7. What is "passive weight"? This is a post-Laban development which appears to have evolved because he made no provision for a lack, a drop in energy. If "passive weight" is a drop in energy why is the word "weight" used? And "passive"? I can intentionally and actively relax my muscles, and continue to the point where the normal resistance to gravity is overcome and the limb/body drops.
Question 8. The signs given for the two opposites of passive weight seem, in fact, not to be opposites but basically the same thing. From PH: "Limp: weak, wilting, flaccid" result from a drop in muscular energy. "Heavy: total collapse, giving in to gravity" are surely only a greater degree of drop in muscular energy. The normal muscle tone used to resist gravity, to remain upright and move in a `normal' way is no longer in operation, and a degree of giving in to the pull of gravity takes over. Why are "Limp," etc. given as the opposite of "Heavy," etc.?
Question 9. The last PH entry under Passive Weight - Heavy is "It's hopeless." This seems the first suggestion of an emotional reason for a muscular change. It can be seen, however, that all the other qualities can also have their origin in an emotional state. In the Effort presentation no division seems to have been made between "muscular changes" and "emotional changes" which reveal themselves through muscular states of the body. Why is this distinction not made in the Effort terminology and symbols?
Question 10. From PH: "Light and Strong are active attitudes toward using the weight of your body."
I am sure that if I had done the full CMA program I would understand better what is meant by `the weight of your body'. Coming from the everyday world, how much does this relate to being fat, heavy, overweight and thin, gaunt, underweight? What is meant by "feel your weight?" Without being awkward I can say that I daily sense my weight in that it has drained away from my face, upper body and arms and is now uncomfortably lodged in my hips and thighs. Why has this weight shift happened to me at this time of life? Because Gravity is taking over. Gravity, the factor which Laban ignored in his Effort scheme and which LMA people have been trying to compensate for ever since. They discovered this lack and the need for terms and indications for the missing aspects, but did not tackle the problem openly or directly.
PH comes to this indirectly; after the "Weight Sensing" symbol on page 220, she states: "It is possible to have a passive attitude toward your weight. These attitudes have to do with letting gravity be the active force, surrendering." (my underlining).
Question 11. As mentioned before, a muscle in the body may tense or relax without in any way relating to gravity. A muscle or several muscles may tense to fight gravity, or they may intentionally relax to give in to, to make use of the pull of gravity. To my knowledge, which is admittedly incomplete, these possibilities are not directly dealt with in the present Effort work. They are arrived at indirectly and only partly covered. Is it not time to deal directly, openly with this important factor? The spade needs to be given a name, called a spade and given a sign.
A concluding thought to share with you: Laban's focus was spatial, we all know that. Movement description was based on where in space the part of the body moved, in what direction and level were the different segments placed. Laban was not body orientated. The Body System of Reference for directions came about through our New York needs and requests. Not all movement is spatially orientated, the much needed description of movement in terms of joint folding, contracting, etc. was developed for Labanotation through my initiative. I believe that it was Laban's lack of focus on the body itself which led to his omission of reference to the force of gravity.
The Motus Humanus Seminar
I am considering coming to the Motus Humanus seminar in Salt Lake City and hope that there will be a chance for some discussions of the above questions. My first thought was to acquaint the LMA community with the range of questions which I need to have answered, I believe that in this I am not entirely alone.
I welcome feedback to these questions and comments, but, please, not in the form of tomes which I will not have time to digest and respond to. Rather an indication of your interest in these questions would be welcome, and of your concern to have these details sorted out would be welcome. I believe that a two day conference dealing only with these questions needs to take place at some point. Motus is not the place for this, but perhaps there can be some initial discussion leading to a future specialized conference.