Language of Dance® Master Classes with Ann Hutchinson Guest
Posted November 10, 2005, (c) Ann Hutchinson Guest
A. Tracking the Moving Adventure
In the world of movement, discovering the panorama of possibilities can be bewildering without means of identification, of discerning differences, and having a memory aid. The Language of Dance® approach to the understanding of movement provides physical exploration combined with easily understood terminology and basic symbols relating to movement experiences. In this first class, the root actions of all movement - called the verbs in the Language of Dance® "Movement Alphabet" - are explored through the invention of simple movement sequences.
by Jimmyle Listenbee from notes by Kerry DiLeonardo
Participants were each given identical scores containing a rhythmic sequence of action and stillness. They were directed to ‘finger-read’ the score (that is, walk the fingers along the score with attention to timing). Next they were directed to choreograph a sequence of movement based on the score. Naturally, with such unspecified symbols, each dance was unique.
The Movement Alphabet® was then presented as a handout (see Figure 1 below) and participants were asked to choose new symbols to replace the unspecified actions in their scores, according to which best described the movements already choreographed. Participants then rehearsed and notated their dance. The session culminated with performances and discussions of notation choices.
A black-and-white outline needs color to bring it to life. In the Language of Dance®, it is the adverbs, the aspects of timing and the ebb and flow of energy in particular, which highlight and give expression to movement sequences. How do we make use of muscular energy? How do we make use of our constant companion - the force of gravity? Is energy used for functional movement purposes or does it serve to express emotional highs and lows, the peaks and the valleys of our feelings as we relate to others, to our environment, and to our enjoyment of movement? This second class explores dynamics, bringing color to the movement sequences created in the first class.
(Notes transcribed from the videotape by Jimmyle Listenbee and edited by Dr. Guest)
- Dr. Guest’s words appear without special punctuation.
- Descriptions of action appear in parentheses.
- Listenbee’s comments appear in brackets.
- Quotations appear in single quote marks.
- Quotations within quotations appear in double quote marks.
- Unidentifiable voices from the audience appear simply as ‘Audience.'
B. (Movement exploration based on a 5-count walking pattern. See Figure 2 below.)
- neutral mood
- sadly, exhaustedly
- quietly, secretly
- bored, anxious)
(Class moves to blackboard.) [Dr. Guest explains the concept of PAR and use of energy.]
(Draws graph with horizontal PAR line and bows above and below the line. Figure 3 below)
A rise in energy, from any cause: joy, anger, etc. is represented by a bow above the imaginary line of Par; a drop in energy is represented by a downward curve.
There can be a slight or marked rise in energy – fine touch, or strong
[Makes note that LMA conflates uplift (demonstrates rising action) with fine touch.]
[Qualifies comments about effort with “in my understanding of effort theory”.]
[Cites her early Jooss Leeder training in which the opposite of strong was weak.]
We have two general degrees in rising energies:
Think of Paul Taylor’s Three Epitaphs, how the dancers come in. (Demonstrates flopped upper body over low, bouncy prance.)
Audience: Do you use ‘heavy’ or ‘passive’?
Heavy, no, not for this. Passive (pause) if you do a movement, and another body part moves because of it, that would be passive. If I do that (lunges) and I relax my arm enough, drop the energy, my arm goes out in space as a result of the torso movement
Audience: So you would call that passive energy?
No, it is ‘energy minus’. I would use the relaxed symbol. In Labanotation we use a dotted line to indicate passive, resultant, but ….to express the quality, this arm is lowered in energy – not its usual standard level of energy. Maybe a turn is a good example (Spins)… if you allow them to relax, then the arms swing out.
[Acknowledges her appreciation for questions.]
Now. Uplift is a rise of energy against gravity.
[Tells story citing Jooss training]…There were lots of swings, much giving in to gravity. I didn’t have a strong back, maybe because of all this free-flowing torso movement, (demonstrates multidirectional torso shape flow). Then I met my first Graham class. There I was in the Graham class, (sits in wide 2nd) pressing against the floor … (lengthening, rising) the feeling… of Power! The power. When I was studying …1941-2 … it was what I called Graham’s‘Amazonic Period’! Ethel Winter, Jane Dudley - who else? Sophie Maslow. They were all Women! (strong cupping hand gestures). And how they used their arms… with all this energy pressing against gravity. Later, Yuriko brought in the delicate quality.
So. (stands) I’m fighting gravity or I’m giving in to gravity.How do we show that in symbols?
We also have an imaginary vertical line of gravity. [Figure 4] When you have a rise or lowering of energy, that is in relation to gravity, [the placement of] the small white or black circle is centered on the upward or downward bow, e.g. (draws [Figure 5]).
(Demonstrates ballet grand plié.) In ballet, uplift is built into the technique; think ‘up’ while going down. Now, I can do a grand plié with the feeling of giving in to gravity. (Demonstrates without counter tension.)
The spatial form of the movement can take on different qualities.
Uplift can occur with movement in any direction.
There’s one exercise that I use… perhaps….this is helpful:
Just raise your arms to the side; (Demonstrates) Now. You’re tired. Gradually, the muscles that are holding your arms up begin to sag. And there arrives a point where they just don’t stay up. Feel that progression. Then, in contrast, imagine you have strings tied to balloons all along your arm, and those balloons are lifting, and your arms don’t move, but you feel that uplift. That upward support.
So this has many variations.
Any questions up to this point? (pause)
Then let’s go to a drop in energy in relation to gravity. Now here is the interesting thing, something that can be very puzzling. In order to use gravity, I need to drop my energy. But! What is the intention? We have to be aware of ‘why’? Is it because you’re tired? Is it because you’re sad that the muscles are letting go? Or, it may be a positive letting go in order to feel gravity. Feel, for instance, the weight of your arms, I can feel it (swings arms) because I’m not holding back against gravity.
One of Balanchine’s ballets that they thought was lost was found on the back of the shelf at the DNB – ‘Symphony -Concertante’. Balletmaster Michael Lland re-created it from the score. When I came to see the performance, the girls were holding hands while swinging one leg. (Demonstrates weighty leg swings in swing rhythm.) The ballet dancers performed evenly controlled, evenly timed leg ‘swings’. They were not able to sense the weight of the leg. And I said ‘But, Michael, what happened to the quality? (demonstrates swing)’ He responded, ‘I know, I tried, but the dancers can’t do it!’
This is because their whole training is with slight uplift. And they need it, but they’re not going to stand on point forever (demos piqué arabesque). But, with that training, they’ve lost the range of dynamic possibilities!
So, if you feel the weight of the limb, the weight of your head, for instance, and want to use that in movement, this would be indicated thus: [Figure 6, Weighty]
Words are a problem. You choose words that seem the best, but it is the idea that matters.
Now of course, in LMA you combine ‘weight’ with use of gravity.
I felt it important to separate the concept of strength from the concept of gravity. Because a strong movement need have nothing to do with gravity. (Demonstrates a step forward initiated by a quick, direct kick, then sustained, strong, bound horizontal arm scattering). Strength and use of gravity can be separated.
We do have to understand, to recognize that increasing energy [involves] muscles. So everything – all the qualities – all the efforts – are based on your ability to control those forces, to produce the desired results. A lot of the time, it is your idea, your intention or motivation, that causes the action, and through that, your muscles respond, and out comes the right movement.
Through the course of years of training, mastering coordination, we are able to do this.
So are there any questions at this point?
Audience: Is PAR consistent, or does it change with context?
In practical, everyday functional movement, it is that level at which you need to operate for that particular task.
In dance, if you have a jumping sequence you need enough energy to produce it. (Jumps in 1st with low elevation and passive upper body) . You can see very quickly if somebody has less or more energy than is expected… Maybe that day they wanted to jump higher, or maybe they just feel more energetic. (Demonstrates buoyant jumps with high elevation) It’s evident in the performance. And even from day to day, people will vary slightly, for whatever reason, maybe they didn’t sleep well or something, so they come in, (demonstrates low energy entrance) they’re down. So for that day, their PAR is below their normal PAR. It may not last very long..
But PAR is only a guideline, where you see – or you feel – the energy is rising, for whatever reason; sometimes it is emotion (Touches chest with both hands, breathes in with apparent heightened mood of anticipation).
In my whole dynamic survey, I go into some of the other elements, like focus – inner and outer focus – like central and peripheral – central parts, peripheral parts of the body. (Demonstrates). But I don’t think it’s important to go into that, now. Partly I wanted to mention it because of what Kurt Jooss said. He felt it a pity that ‘central and peripheral’ had been dropped from Laban’s Effort development. And then regarding focus … I must now give credit to Pauline Koner. When I began to explore dynamics, she was the person that could totally embody the whole range of dynamics. There are not that many people who are also able to articulate clearly what they want and point out what the differences are.
Years ago the DNB had a one-day conference, in which half of the day was devoted to the subject of dynamic qualities. Pearl Primus talked about African dance and the different qualities in the dances of Nigeria and other areas. I wanted her to show us, to be specific. But she only talked generalities about differences existing in the qualities. Then Jean Erdman gave a very thoughtful presentation, and one part of it was illustrating that if you are carrying a tray with water in it, and you don’t want to spill any, automatically a certain dynamic takes over. Well, of course it was bound flow, yes? Then her time was up and she was cut short. But then Pauline Koner, who was there in the audience, got up, and said ‘You haven’t addressed the difference between the practical, functional use of dynamics in contrast to the emotional expression.’ That really made me think about the differences.
For much of what we do, especially in dance and choreography, we use stylized movement for what’s happening (performs mimetic sequence), a functional representation. So, I thought that whenever a quality indication is put in a square bracket, like that, (draws Addition bracket [Figure 7], it is a matter of fact; there is a physical need for that dynamic.
Audience: Did you call that a ‘square bracket’?
The angular vertical bracket is an ‘addition bracket’. The stated quality is maintained throughout the action.
Audience: What I heard is that the square bracket includes a quality for a functional purpose while the – what do you call it? – more rounded bow including that same quality for an expressive purpose.
(Demonstrates stamping earth down, followed by angry stomping to compare functional vs. expressive strength)
[Audience: General laughter; offer to post video on LOD web site.]
All right, now if there are no more burning questions… I think it would be good to get up and move again, and I’m going to put on that same music that we were warming up with at the very beginning, and as you know, Jimmyle is going to pick up on this with some comparisons between the two systems as they stand now.
[General free form dancing on pathways closed the session.]
Appendix: Eukinetics – Effort/Shape - Dynamics
[Dr. Guest was also willing to share her perspective as follows on the development of dynamics within Laban theory]
EUKINETICS – EFFORT/SHAPE – DYNAMICS
Thoughts from Ann Hutchinson Guest
Eukinetics – 1936-1939
As a student at the Jooss-Leeder School in England before WW2, the qualities of movement were introduced in the Eukinetics classes. The three components were:
STRONG – WEAKEffort – 1947 –
FAST – SLOW
CENTRAL – PERIPHERAL
When Laban developed his codification of Effort, which he first explained to me in June 1947, the noticeable differences lay in his having dropped Central and Peripheral, replacing them with the spatial aspects of Direct and Indirect.
Whereas the opposite of strong had previously been weak, on his new graph, the vertical line, which Laban now called “the weight factor” had its opposites “Strong” and “Light”, also termed ‘gentle’ or ‘fine touch’. As a result this vertical line represented two different degrees of the same quality; there was no opposite. This was interesting in that each of the other aspects in his Effort Graph had opposites.
When after Laban’s death I asked Lisa Ullmann why ‘weak, relaxed’ had been omitted, she replied, “When you are weak, relaxed, you are not making an effort, therefore it is not part of Effort.” I also asked why the ‘force’ factor was being called the ‘weight factor’. She replied “Because the amount of strength used is measured by the amount of weight you can carry, as in carrying a suitcase.”
It is significant to know that Warren Lamb, who worked so closely with Laban and who did so much in developing the “shape’ part of the work, refers to the vertical line in the Effort graph as ‘the force factor’. He does not use the term ‘weight’.
Over the years, through the work of Irmgard Bartenieff and the specialists whom she developed, the need was felt to indicate ‘weak, relaxed.’ The solution was to add a minus sign at the base of the vertical line, the term used being ‘passive weight’. Why did a term that is not immediately understandable need to be applied? Why could the ordinary English words we all understand not be used? Clearly they felt the word ‘weight’ had to be part of the term.
Dynamics – 1983 –
From working with people involved with LMA I came to realize that the word ‘weight’ was used in more than one sense; one of the uses being in relation to gravity. Laban did not directly refer to the pull of gravity, to the body’s ability to fight gravitational pull or to give in to it for practical or expressive purposes. In training with Laban, a strong movement was always illustrated as being downward, across the body and making use of gravity and of the body weight (here I refer to pounds, the physical body weight). Neither movement exploration nor verbal clarification separated these aspects.
How to sort out the different analyses and terminology? I decided to make a completely fresh start. In what I have developed under the heading of “Dynamics”, I have been much inspired by Pauline Koner, a rare spirit who not only experienced and expressed a wide range of dynamics in her movement, but also was able to articulate clearly in describing the differences taking place. My research obviously led me to other sources and other people, of whom Jean Erdman was one.
Changes in dynamics in movement are the result of the ebb and flow of energy in the body, controlled by the muscles. Without muscular activity we are unable to move. The movements we do are the result of learned, trained patterns. How such actions are performed, the variation in quality and expression given them, result from slight muscular changes, subtle control in using levels of muscular energy and in the interplay between muscles. These are the facts. But we are humans and we deal also with fantasy.
Practical Uses of Energy
A strong movement may be the practical one of hammering a nail. In the downward direction we can make use of gravity; to hammer a nail in the ceiling we have to fight gravity. In pushing or pulling an object horizontally we may bring our body weight into play, leaning against the object to be moved, thus not relying only on the strength of our arms and/or leg(s).
Relaxation can come into the picture for practical reasons; more can be accomplished if parts of the body are relaxed. Many sports benefit from application of this knowledge.
Expressive Uses of Energy
A rise or drop in muscular energy may occur as a result of emotional feelings. Our reactions to our inner wishes, desires and whether they are being realized can only be revealed by how they affect the body. Whether it is a positive or negative reaction, it is expressed in the body through the muscles. The difference between emotional expression and practical use of energy for daily tasks is important, therefore there needs to be provision for the indicating of the difference.
In my understanding, ‘Flow’ as provided by Laban, is the manner in which the movement involved is being performed. Thus aspects of control, of bound flow, of guided movement, makes particular use of the muscles. Equally the liberation of free flow takes place through muscular changes.
The ‘WHY?’ behind a movement will affect the ‘HOW?’ it is performed. It is the mind, the desire stemming from feelings, the intention, the reason that a movement is about to take place that affect the result. I have pressed home the understanding that the muscles of our body are the servants, but how they are brought into action and in what manner, can stem from many other sources among which may be reflex or instinctive actions.