Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Fundamental Difference Between Kinetography Laban and Labanotation

A Fundamental Difference Between Kinetography Laban and Labanotation
Submitted by Ilene Fox - February 15, 2001

Originally Presented at the Twenty-First Biennial Conference of the International Council of Kinetography Laban/Labanotation, Barcelona, Spain, July 25-30, 1999

This paper was supported, in part, by the Ann Hutchinson Guest Research Fund which was established at the Dance Notation Bureau to support research by DNB staff notators.


There have been many discussions of the differences between LN and KIN at past ICKL conferences. Differences in rules have been identified. If we are to accurately read each other's scores, these usages need to be known; a definitive listing is important. But if we are to not only know the differences but also understand the reasons for them, we must understand the way of conceptualizing movement, the underlying philosophies, that led to the various decisions.

It is my contention that some of the differences are based on one of the most fundamental elements of the system, our definition of movement. KIN and LN have different premises for defining movement. Only by understanding the different definitions can we understand how a practitioner of KIN or LN is understanding the movement they are looking at.

At the 1999 conference, when this paper was presented, Jacqueline Challet Haas said she would not use the term "movement" but instead would talk of "change." If this difference in terms is universal to KIN and not just a personal preference, it provides further insight into the differences discussed here. This difference in terms does not alter the premise of this paper, in fact it supports it as will be discussed in an addendum added after the conference (the last section here). Anywhere the term movement has been used in the rest of this paper, it has been modified post-conference to reflect this difference in terminology. Other slight revisions have been made throughout the paper to support this revision in terms.

It is our definitions of movement and change, which determine whether something has occurred and therefore whether notation is needed. Is there movement which needs to be notated? Has a change occurred which requires new notation? As readers, we must know what constitutes movement or change so that if we are told not to move or change, we know how to meet that requirement.

By following the established rules, we determine what notation is needed. What this paper is addressing is how those rules got established. What were the assumptions made that resulted, in some cases, in two different sets of rules? Why is there this difference? Why do we all say "no movement, or no change" agree on that, yet get two different results from the notation?

The Two Points of View

Our differences in defining movement or change, have led to an ongoing discussion, over years and years and years . . . about, for example, what we should understand to happen to the arms when the torso tilts. (Ex. 1)

At the 1963 ICKL conference, it was recommended that, for unification and clarity, we would always indicate either space hold or body hold for better understanding of each other's scores. In 1965 it was agreed that the body and space holds must remain in use until further research is carried out. No subsequent decision was made to change this. It is not clear whether everyone has been following this practice. It is what the DNB has been teaching since then. Checking for the use of body and space holds is part of our score checking procedure.

In order to understand the way movement or change was defined as both KIN and LN developed, I would like to go back to pre-1963 thinking while looking at example 1. Practitioners of both KIN and LN all agreed, and still do, that when nothing is written in the gesture column, no change, no movement, occurs. However, although all agreed nothing was to happen for the arms in example 1, two different results were arrived at:

In order to understand this variance, it is necessary to understand the different ways KIN and LN are defining movement or change.

A basic premise in the development of the LN system is that we are looking at movement and that movement is defined by the body, a physical action in the body. An action in the body defines whether movement has occurred. When there has been muscular action in the body, an action in a joint, then movement has occurred; no action in the joint, no movement. When movement does take place in the body, a spatial reference is used to describe it.

Originally, in LN, when no movement occurred in the shoulder joints, nothing was written for the arms; no movement, no symbols in the column. If nothing was written for the arms when the torso tilted, because no action occurred in the shoulder joints, the arms were "carried along," and therefore they changed direction on the cross of axes. Any movement the free end made through space was a result of the torso action, not an arm action.

LN has been following the unification usage of always putting body or space holds for so long, that we have begun to forget the reason for the original thinking.

When read with the original premise of LN in mind, in example 1, since there is no movement for the arms, no action occurs in the shoulder joints and the arms are carried along. In order to accomplish this, there must be a change in the arm direction on the cross of axes.

It is my understanding that in KIN "change" is defined by a new direction on the cross of axes. When the limb is in a new direction according to the cross of axes, then "change" has occurred. No "change", no new in direction on the cross of axes. This is true no matter which cross of axes is being used as a reference. If the arm changes direction according to the stated cross of axes, "change" has occurred. A change according to the system defines whether "change" has occurred.

In KIN it was understood that the arms retain their direction according to the cross of axes as the torso tilts. Since nothing is written for the arms, no change, they keep their direction on the cross of axes. In order to accomplish this, there must be an action in the shoulder joint, the angle of the joint changes. Any movement in this joint is a result of maintaining the direction in which the arm was last told to go.

In example 1, when read with the KIN premise, since there is no change for the arms, they remain in the same direction on the cross of axes. In order to accomplish this, there must be action in the shoulder joints.

In order not to move in LN, one must change directions on the cross of axes. In order not to move in KIN, one must perform an action in the body.

Assessing One System Using The Premises Of The Other

Often in our ICKL discussions, we run into problems because we are trying to formulate and assess the rules of one system by the premises of the other. Or we state the rule without taking into regard the intended premise.

I have heard the KIN rule described by LN practitioners as "KIN understands a space hold." I have heard the LN rule described as "LN understands a body hold." Or "LN uses the body cross of axes." While each of these premises would yield the same results, none of them express the rule in the way it is conceived.

KIN does not understand a space hold, according to the KIN logic, no space hold is needed. Since the arm is not to change according to the cross of axes anyway, using a hold sign to state that the arm is not to change is redundant.

LN does not understand a body hold for the same reason. Since the arm is already not to move at the point of attachment, stating a body hold is redundant. Nor is LN assuming a body cross of axes. The direction is being judged from the standard cross of axes, unless another system of reference is specified. However with the LN logic, how we judge the arm does not affect what happens subsequently.

If we want to accurately assess and understand the rules of both variations of the Laban system, we need to consider the logic behind them.

Cancellation Signs

This difference in thinking also affects our use of cancellation signs.

In KIN, different types of movements have their own cancellation signs. Example 2 shows the general cancellation sign for directions and contractions/extensions. Example 3 shows the cancellation sign for rotations and example 4 shows the cancellation sign for relation signs and contacts.

In LN, while all of the above are also used (although example 2 is not used in exactly the same way), the sign shown in example 5 is also used as a general cancellation sign that cancels everything.

When looking at changes according to the system, as in KIN, it makes sense to specifically cancel each stated movement, each change according to how it was notated. If one has been told to gesture into a direction, one must specifically be told to no longer gesture into that direction. If one has been told to twist, one has to be told specifically to untwist.

When defining movement by body action, as in LN, it makes sense to state that the action is for the body part to return in all ways to the defined "normal" state.

Retention Signs

KIN and LN do not follow the same validity rule for retention in the body (body hold) (Ex. 6).

In KIN, the body hold, when applied to a movement indication, is valid only for that movement.

For LN, the body hold lasts until cancelled.

If we again assess this in terms of our definitions of movement, the rationale behind each choice becomes clear.

From the KIN point of view, each time a body hold is used, a change occurs because the result is that a limb changes direction according to the cross of axes. If a change occurs, notation is needed to indicate it. The notation used in this case is a body hold sign. So it makes sense to repeat it with each new indication. With each new indication, change occurs.

In LN, a body hold is used to indicate that no movement is to occur. Each time one is used, no action is to happen in the joint, so there is no movement. If we are to continue not to move, no further notation is needed. We do not notate what does not move.

Difficulties with Unification

The difficulty with unifying on this issue is that both points of view have a valid underlying logic. Different and incompatible, but valid. Neither one is clearly illogical. However, arguments can be made for each way of thinking. Certainly many of us prefer one over the other, and usually the one we are most used to. Although we can say we like one way better than the other, it is difficult to point to one way of thinking and say it is clearly much better than the other.

An argument for the KIN point of view is:

The system is based on spatial analysis so if a spatial change is made, it needs to be indicated.

An argument for the LN point of view is:

The system was developed to record body movement. Basing our definition of movement on the system is making the tool stronger than what it was developed to serve.

The underlying philosophies of KIN and LN differ on a fundamental level, so we approach movement notation from different standpoints. Unification may not be possible without giving up an entire viewpoint. Understanding and sharing may be a more possible, and maybe desirable, goal.

Impact On Future Development Of The System

Our definition of movement or change can also affect how we view the needs of the system.

If one defines movement or change by the premises of the Laban system, as in KIN, by definition, anything can be notated within the present system and the need will not be seen for new and different ways of conceptualizing movement.

If movement is defined by actions in the body, as in LN, there may be more ways to describe these actions, leading to the perception of a need for different ways to write the movement which capture the intent in the description.

Many of our discussions at ICKL have centered on whether or not new developments are needed. We are often divided down KIN/LN lines. If we keep in mind our differing definitions of movement or change, it is not surprising that this division occurs.

Addendum - Differing Terminology

The original version of this paper, which was written by an LN practitioner, used the term "movement" exclusively. At the 1999 conference, a KIN colleague said she would not use the term "movement," but would use the term "change."

In describing what we are doing, using the term movement has a connotation of action in the body. The term change has a connotation of a new reference, in this case a new direction on the cross of axes.

The use of the word movement reinforces the Labanotation view that we are looking at actions of the body. The choice to use this word supports the underlying philosophy discussed in this paper.

The preference to use the work change rather than to talk about movement supports the premise of this paper that KIN is looking at changes based on the Laban system rather than looking at body actions.

The very choice in terminology indicates and supports the difference in viewpoints, in philosophies.

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