Thursday, January 28, 2010

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, January 7, 2008

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, January 7, 2008
Submitted by Charlotte Wile – August 22, 2008

[Following are minutes for the Open Theory Meeting held at the Dance Notation Bureau, January 7, 2008. The minutes were written by Charlotte Wile.]

Present: Sandra Aberkalns, Jen Garda, Doris Green, Mira Kim, Charlotte Wile.

1. Near and Far
2. African Dance


Ideas concerning “far relationships” were introduced at the November 25 meeting. The concept was explored further at this meeting.

Sandra and Jen (who were not at the last meeting) questioned whether it is necessary to have a “far” relationship bow, since being far can be expressed in other ways. As an example, a far distance between movers can be shown on a floor plan (Ex. 1a). Likewise, the direction of body parts could show that one body part is far from another body part. In 1b it is obvious that the right hand is far from the left hand.

Charlotte: The same could be said about the near bow; near distance can also be surmised from other indications. If there is a need for a near bow in the system, then having a bow to express “far” would also be useful. Furthermore, keep in mind that in Motif Notation just salient aspects of the movement are recorded. Consider a score in which distance is the only aspect that is important. Such notation might depict the structure of an improvisation that is about being near and far. Other aspects of the movement, such as where the movers are located in the movement site (the floor plan), or the direction of body parts, are open to interpretation. In that case, one would need a way to indicate distance without making statements about other aspects, e.g., as in 1c. The notation simply says do movement that ends near, then do movement that ends far away. (The “far bow” in 1c was proposed at the last meeting).

Jen questioned whether “far” is actually a relationship. She felt the concept of near is a relationship, whereas the concept of far is more about space

Charlotte maintained that near and far are both relationships. They both denote distance relationships (an amount of space between the relaters). In a near relationship there is a small amount of space between the relaters. In a far relationship there is a large amount of space between the relaters.

The group wondered if near and far are objective or subjective concepts. When two people stand next to each other, one person might say they are standing near each other, while the other person might say they are a normal (not near) distance from each other. Does the established symbol for near (1d) state how close is near? What would a symbol for far mean? How far away is far?

Sandra: Context will show what the symbols mean.

The established bow for a near relationship is shown in 1d. Participants at the November 25 meeting discussed several proposals for a far bow (1e-1h). They felt 1h might work best. (It is important to note that their conclusion was based just on consideration of 1e-1h. The group did not rule out the development of a better idea.)

As discussed above, at this (January 8) meeting some people questioned the need for a far relationship bow. However, assuming such a bow would be useful, it was felt that 1h might not be the best solution after all. Several reasons were given. Mira said that 1h could interfere with other lines in the notation when the bow is drawn across the staff. Sandra said that 1h might be too hard to draw in LabanWriter. Also, it was felt that 1f, 1g, and 1h look too much like the near bow (1d), especially when they are drawn the relatively small size that is often used in a score.

What about 1e?

As was discussed last week, 1e might convey the paradoxical idea: “be far near.” This could be confusing.

Also, Charlotte also felt the idea of modifying the sign for “near” (1d), in order to create a sign for far (1e), confuses what she feels should be the paradigm for these concepts. As she sees it, far is not a modification or subset of near. Rather, they are equal ideas. They are the opposite ends of the distance continuum.

Jen: On the other hand, if one looks at relationships as a progression [See Guest and Curran, Your Move (2008), p. 289.], perhaps making far a modification of near does make sense.
Regardless of the arguments against using 1e to indicate far, the group felt that idea works better than 1f, 1g, or 1h.

Jen: Perhaps changing the wording used to define 1e could make it more acceptable. For instance, once could say that 1e means “increasing the spatial distance of your nearness.”

Mira pointed out that at the last meeting the group discussed the idea of using 1d as a generic sign that depicts any distance. The sign could be modified with a space sign to show distance. Then, as at this meeting, there was a concern about changing the meaning of 1d. The established meaning of 1d is “near.” Changing its meaning to “any distance” could be very confusing.

Jen: Could “approaching” and “leaving” indications be used to solve the problem?

Charlotte: We have a way to say, “leave” and finish “near,” e.g., the hand leaves the arm and finishes with the hand near the arm (1i). However, there is no equivalent way to write “leaving” that finishes “far” (e.g., the hand leaves the arm and finishes with the hand far away from the arm).
Sandra wondered if addressing could be used.

Charlotte: Addressing denotes awareness. It is different from the ideas of near and far. It is possible to be near something and not be aware of it. Likewise, it is possible to be far away from something and not be aware of it.

Charlotte proposed another idea that could be used in Motif Notation. Maybe a space sign could be put in all the “distance” bows. This set of symbols could include a generic sign and three degrees of distance:
Ex. 1j – any distance
Ex. 1k- near
Ex. 1l – neither near nor far (“normal,” “neutral”)
Ex. 1m – far

Sandra said she did not feel 1j-1m would be necessary or suitable for L/N.


Doris gave the DNB library a copy of Notes on African Dance: Dances of Africa, by Doris Green.

Doris brought a revision of the L/N portion of her score for AGBADZA to the meeting. The revised score is shown in 2a. (For the original score see the minutes for September 10, 2007.) Doris asked the group if they would read 2a to see if it needs further revision. She was particularly interested in how people interpreted the movement of the arms in relation to the movement of the feet.

Many aspects of the notation were discussed, including:

• Spreading the columns a little farther apart to make the notation easier to read.
• The timing of the flexion and rotation of the arms.
• The timing of the arms in relation to the feet.
• The use of “approaching extension” for the arms.
• The indication of palm rotation (the palms cannot rotate).
• The use of a “hold the leading” sign to make the notation less cumbersome.
• The amount the arms rotate.
• Whether there is an upbeat in the arms before the first step.
• The movement in the torso, e.g., How far is the torso tilted? What happens to the chest? What happens to the pelvis? Is there a contraction?
• Is there shoulder movement?
• The timing of the step and the placement of the release sign.
• The size, level, and direction of the steps.

During the discussion it was suggested that a “part leading sign with two hold signs at the end” could be used to make the notation less cumbersome (see 2b below). The meaning of the indication was clarified. The double hold sign in 2d shows that the leading is retained throughout all the lower arm movements. If the second hold sign was not there, the leading would only last as long as the validity of the indication next to which it is placed (i.e., as long as the first turn of the lower arm). See Guest, Labanotation, 4th edition, page 412. 

Here are pictures of Jen and Doris taken at the meeting:

After the meeting, Mira transcribed the first measures of the sequence, using the revisions suggested by the group (2b). Later Doris made further changes in the notation (handwritten in 2c and drawn using LabanWriter in 2d).

The group felt it might be very useful to have Ray Cook (who is a consummate stager) read the revised phrase next time he attends a meeting. Since he was not at this meeting and has not seen a performance of the movement, this would be a good way to test the accuracy of the revised notation.
Below are excerpts from e-mails Doris sent after the meeting.

E-mail from Doris - January 8
“I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting yesterday. It was exciting to see them interpret the movement, particularly Sandra who was so animated, physically doing the movement. You noticed the more I performed the movement, the closer they came to how the movement is performed. This is why I say you can NEVER take the teacher out of dance. A CD or DVD program will not work.
I am attaching a writing from my textbook which clearly explains how the dancer moves with the music in the dance we were studying yesterday. I have always stated that the dancer begins on the last beat of the measure. Under "steps" you will see (rest, quarter note). The dancer picks up her foot on the rest and steps on the quarter note, the last beat of the measure. I have also described each of the body parts-shoulders, stomach, and hands…. As African dance is an oral tradition, we learn by repeating what the performer does. Therefore, when I teach the students never asked me if my shoulders go back. They repeat my movements for exactness. I am never asked to slow down a movement or analysis a movement. These are all western concepts. But since I was born here, my notes contain the analysis of movement as it relates to the music.
When I entered DNB, they always stressed do the dance not the music. I stress that you cannot separate African dance from its music. You can also see from the original notation of Agbadza integrated with the music score, the next to the last beat is what was left out after the starting position.
….It is always wise to know the music, and to use the music as a guide in African dance. This is not necessarily true in western forms of dance.”
[Doris’s attachment is shown below]
E-mail from Doris - January 11
“….I looked at the notation [2b] and noticed that the upbeat was missing. I redrew it [1c] comparing all three documents [2a, 2b, and the notation in the September 10 minutes]. At DNB they forgot to put in the upbeat. Mira was the first one to notice that I move before the first step (upbeat). Take a look at my draft [2c]. I am not happy with the writing of the chest. I believe it is better to say that it moves toward fwd high and then goes away. In actuality in the starting position, the chest is erect, but the moment you start to dance, or lift your foot off the floor the movement of the chest begins.
Believe me the music is the best aid to performing African dance accurately. As you will notice, it is oppositional movement, when the hand is down, the foot is up and vice versa. The pattern of the movement is [eighth-quarter, eighth-quarter, eighth-quarter, eighth-quarter.] The eighth note equals one beat and the quarter note equals two beats. This equals the 12/8 meter, in which a number of African dances are performed, particularly Bekor rhythms.

The reason I suggest that we work on writing the chest movement because it is too small a notation to include the shift in the symbol. There must be another way of writing it to achieve the same performance of movement.”
E-mail from Doris - January 12
“…. I am going to rework the Agbadza as it is one of the primary Bekor movements from Ghana. There is something else that is not recognized, that is the continent is divided into dance regions according to ethnic groups and environment and whatever. Dances from Ghana are in the dance region called Black Coast Region. In this region we have subdivisions and Ghana is in subdivision 4. Within the subdivision there are more divisions characterized by Dance Clubs and Societies, Group dances in unison, ritual and possession dances and oppositional torso movements. All of these factors are governed by the language that governs the music, which governs the dance. Each subgroup in the Black coast region dances have different characteristics. For example there are no masked or stilt dances in Ghana, but Ivory Coast(region 3) and Senegal (region 1) are loaded with masked dances, stilt dances and haystack dances. All of these things are in my book which is under publication review.
Look for writings to appear in Dance Research Journal 40/1 and the DRJ Newsletter coming out this year.”
E-mail from Doris - January 17
“I have reworked the Agbadza [2d]…. It is obvious that something needs to done to get the upbeat as it is drawn in the hand drawn sketch [2c] so everything will be equal.”
For another perspective on Doris’ ideas, following is an e-mail Odette Blum sent to Doris on January 6.
“Dear Doris,
You have not kept up with the available notated materials! Which, admittedly, is hard to do since they keep coming.
Besides modern, ballet, Jazz, tap there has been quite a bit of Asian dance. To mention a few: Korea has a Dance Documentation society and has regularly published books. They have a group of Labanotation professionals, the result of Judy Van Zile's work there over some decades, and of course she has published books and papers on Korean dance well illustrated with L/N examples over the years; also Hawaiian - she illustrated Adrienne Koeppler's book. A number of years ago Rhonda Ryman and Judy and Ilene Fox taught courses in L/N in several other Asian countries that resulted in notations. African dance has been notated, not just by me but also by others resulting from L/N courses taught in Europe.
When John Bennisan from U. of Ghana was here for graduate work he notated a number of the dances as performed by the Ghana Dance Ensemble, of which he had been a member, that was over 30 years ago. I have always used phrases from that and my own writings and publications in my course materials. Beatrice Ayi has notated materials and has been teaching at the U. of Ghana since her graduation here. It is up to Labanotation teachers to include a variety of dances from various cultures in their course materials and many do. When I taught the Labanotation Teacher Certification courses the trainees were strongly encouraged to do that and to collect many different kinds of materials during the course.
As with any dance form, African dance just needs people interested enough to write it, then there will be more to choose from..
I will take this opportunity, with apologies for taking so long, to respond to your long-ago e-mail after the conference at OU. As you know, since we have had this discussion before, I think the way you insist on notating, using the musical rhythms on the dance staff, (which really belong on the music staff), instead of using the dancer's basic pulse, makes your materials difficult to read. As I have said before, the dance is taught in relation to the dancer's pulse. I saw that in the two years I taught at the U. of Ghana and in subsequent visits I found the same to be true. Beatrice Ayi has no doubt about it and cannot understand why you choose to notate the way you do. I might add that Bertie Opoku (before his retirement and death, Professor and Head of Dance at the University of Ghana and Director of the Ghana Dance Ensemble) had no problem with it either. He studied L/N at Juilliard which is why he wanted someone to come and teach L/N at the Institute of African Studies. (I might add I also saw him in rehearsals of the Ghana Dance Ensemble many times).
On my arrival in Ghana, beside observing classes every day for many months till I had become more conversant with the music and dance (I continued that as long as I was there, but no longer on a daily basis). I was given private dance lessons (at Bertie's suggestion) several times a week by Grace Nyamah for many months - at least five. She was his principal teacher, and also the Akan specialist. The International Trade Fair was held in Accra in 1967 during which the Ghana Dance Ensemble gave concerts. During that event, Bertie had me perform the solo Adowa with the Company. He did likewise when there were dance visitors from abroad at the Institute, though the only one I can remember at the moment is Alvin Ailey This was part of Bertie's contention that it was not only Africans who can perform African dance, but any person who can dance can perform any style if willing to study and practice.
So I think I can say I have a good handle on how dance is taught there both from personal experience and observation, likewise in other parts of Ghana, when I took lessons during my travels. In addition all the dance students, at least at the time I was there, had to do a final research paper, for graduation, of a celebration in their home villages. The thematic materials of the dance had to be notated. They never had a problem with relating to the dancer's beat. I assume those materials are still in the IAS library.
Yes, of course they use syllables to articulate rhythm and the dancers are familiar with the rhythms of the instruments, and where the dance rhythm falls within the total structure, but they are also very clear about the dancer's pulse either by counts 1, 2 etc and/or stepping the pulse or whatever device they choose when teaching. And as with any dance form the musical rhythms can be placed alongside the dance notation, which I note that you do in the examples that I have seen. So why not put the dance pulse (or beats according to the time signature) on the dance staff, where the dance rhythm can be clearly seen by the length of the movement symbols. In that way one can immediately and EASILY see how they relate to the rhythms of the instruments alongside the dance staff.
In your Agbadza, for example, the hands are clapping the basic pulse, which is where the ticks, (indicating beats) should be for the dance staff, or since you have a 12/8 time signature for the music, you could divide the dance staff into 12 1/8ths in a measure. (Only 3-4 ticks on your L/N staff are clear on my copy dated Feb.'07).
I would strongly urge you to reconsider this matter and concentrate more on contributing to African dance materials by making your notations more accessible within the framework of Labanotation usage.
Technical Notation comments for Agbadza: A release sign is not needed before a step; or is that supposed to indicate the foot lifting off the floor with the body actions? if yes, it should coincide with the entire movement, which is even in timing. The leg gesture should line up with the "do-away-with" symbols for even timing. If the release is supposed to represent that leg gesture then you have actually written an uneven timing for the leg gesture in relation to the arms and body. The Agbadza is in an even duple time: and 1 and 2 etc. with the rounding of the back, etc on the "and" and step on the”1", etc.
Incidentally, I first met you in the mid 1970's when you wanted to do advanced with African reading materials. So Mickey Topaz, Director of the DNB, asked me if I would teach you while I was in NYC for a couple of weeks. This I did, and gave you various Akan, Ewe, Dagomba and Lobi materials for reading. So I think you probably meant 1972 not 1962 as being your first connection to the DNB.
All the best,
Doris responsed to Odette by e-mail on January 7:
“Dear Odette:
Happy New Year. Thank you for your response to my email of which I have not had time to digest all that was written. I am aware that there has been work done in Korean, Hawaii and other places. I am also aware of the work of Rhonda Ryman, and Beatrice Ayi.
You wrote:
When John Bennisan from U. of Ghana was here for graduate work he notated a number of the dances as performed by the Ghana Dance Ensemble, of which he had been a member, that was over 30 years ago. ... I assume those materials are still in the IAS library. I am going to have someone check out these items at IAS library. I say this because on several trips to IAS library I could not find any of these items. When I was there as a cultural specialist, the students were complaining to me that the IAS library did not have any notations of African dance.
Long before the death of Prof. Opoku, I asked him about these works and he said you took them with you. I do not wish to get involved in the microcosm of this subject as it is a moot point.
You wrote:
Incidentally, I first met you in the mid 1970's when you wanted to do advanced with African reading materials. So Mickey Topaz, Director of the DNB, asked me if I would teach you while I was in NYC for a couple of weeks. This I did, and gave you various Akan, Ewe, Dagomba and Lobi materials for reading. So I think you probably meant 1972 not 1962 as being your first connection to the DNB.
You are incorrect about this as I met you with Godfrey Sackeyfio in the sixties when you returned from Ghana. I meant 1962 when I became involved with Labanotation studying with Professor Betsy Martin in Brooklyn College and she introduced me to DNB when it was in the lower village. I did subsequently meet you again in the 1970's for advanced with African reading materials. I thanked you for that. I have those materials.
When I saw you in Ohio, I believe it was the first time that you had seen a workshop I offered....You wrote.. I think the way you insist on notating, using the musical rhythms on the dance staff, (which really belong on the music staff) This is my point, the music and dance not separate items they are part of the whole. Throughout all my training in Africa from the islands off the East African coast to Senegal and the island off the West Coast, the African kept repeating the Music controls the dance, if you do not listen to the music, then it is no good. Separating the dance from the music is the main reason why there is so much confusion today in the field.
That is all the time I have as I must leave.
Best regards,

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