Thursday, January 28, 2010

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, May 7, 2007

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, May 7, 2007
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - September 26, 2007
[Following are minutes for the Open Theory Meeting held at the Dance Notation Bureau, May 7, 2007. The minutes were written by Charlotte Wile and Tina Curran.]
Present: Sandra Aberkalns, Zack Brown, Tina Curran, Jen Garda, Doris Green, Mira Kim, Mei-Chen Lu, Christina Schoenfeld, Charlotte Wile.
Topic 1. Stepping Signs in Motif Notation.
Topic 2. Notating African Dance.

The group read the following paper:

Stepping Signs
by Charlotte Wile
In Motif Notation the signs for "stepping" are shown in 1a-1g below.
1a. Stepping (general sign).
1b. Stepping on the right, left, or both feet.
1c. Stepping on either foot.
1d. Stepping on the right foot.
1e. Stepping on the left foot.
1f. Stepping on both feet.
1g. Stepping on both feet.

Note: The signs in 1a and 1b are similar in that they leave the foot (feet) that does the stepping open to interpretation. However, the signs differ in the intent they convey. In 1a the focus is just on the action of stepping. Example 1b explicitly says the foot (feet) and the action are salient.

Stepping in a direction is shown by modifying the stepping sign with a direction sign, as exemplified in 2a-g.

Therefore, stepping in "any direction" should be indicated as in 3a-3g. Likewise, stepping in place should be indicated as in 4a-g.

This is confusing because it means three movements are indicated with the same sign (shown in red): stepping in any direction (Ex. 3a), stepping in any direction on both feet (Ex. 3f), and stepping in place (Ex. 4a).

Three solutions to this problem are shown below. Which solution works best? Is there another solution that would work better than the ones shown?

Discussion of Charlotte's Paper

Point of Discussion 1: Examples 1a-g vs. 3a-g in Charlotte's document.
It was acknowledged that the symbols 1a-g and 3a-g theoretically mean the same thing: stepping on the feet (or a foot) with freedom in choice of direction. When asked about the difference of meaning, Charlotte expressed that it was a matter of attention to intention:
Ex. 1a-g provides the most general statements of stepping on the feet where attention may be focused on the transference of weight (with support on the feet). Whereas, 3a-g expand attention to direction by explicitly adding the “any direction” statement so attention during exploration makes one more aware of the directions possible or chosen in the transference of weight in taking steps. [Addendum by Tina: I found this distinction to be useful.]

Point of Discussion 2: The question was posed, why have both 1f and 1g (and the subsequent symbols underneath, 2f & g, 3f & g, 4f & g)?

The parallel was drawn to the combination of body part signs, i.e. the individual signs drawn side-by-side for the right foot and left foot being combined to also represent both feet. The benefit being that a notator may chose to use the combined symbol for both feet or to write the left and right foot depending upon the context of the movement and what would be most reader friendly.

Point of Discussion 3: Discussion focused on 2a and considered the existence and use of a specific direction symbol with a horizontal ad lib in the middle.

In Your Move, an open direction symbol (forward, sideward, place, etc.) would be used with a vertical ad lib. sign in the middle to represent a directional action at any level, but the horizontal ad lib. over a specific direction would not be used.

In LN the horizontal ad lib. over a direction symbol may be used. The example given of a dancer being directed to take a second position but the exactness of that position not being exact, so the horizontal ad lib. sign being used over the sideward symbols in the support column to represent this leeway in performance. [Addendum from Tina: In thinking about this, I wonder if a vertical ad lib. next to the direction symbols might be a better solution to mean, “more-or-less” this position. Just a question.]

Tina shared the following to show the development of her understanding and visual arrangement of Motif symbols which results in support of Charlotte's proposed Solution #1.

In addition to Issues 1-3 above, there was discussion of use of the forward symbol and the placement of the chimney being right or left as this has specific meaning in LN for the right or left side of the body. In Motif Notation this is, initially, less important. Discussion ensued with the sharing of various pedagogical approaches/needs to reveal that in first introducing the forward symbol, the placement and meaning of the chimney may not be centrally important within the instruction, but brought in later when more detail is appropriate and ready to be grasped by the student.

Also, Zack wondered if it might be useful to have a new set of general symbols using ad lib. signs, such as those shown below. Participants felt the vertical ad lib. sign has meanings that would make 17a-g unsuitable for the ideas being discussed. However, the signs might be useful in some other context.

The group read Doris's paper:
© Doris Green, 2007
In 2003 at an ICKL conference Jeffrey Longstaff presented a paper on Metric timing vs. Action in dance -rhythmic Timing in Dance. When I read this article, I felt I had to emphasize that this is a strong point in the teaching of African dance, therefore, the preservation of dance through notation.

I have teaching African dance for more than 55 years dating back to my teenage years. As we all know African dance is performed largely to percussive instruments, which cannot be notated through western notation. As rhythm is the primary element of the music, not melodies, the rhythmic approach is more suitable than the metric approach.

I recently returned from a conference at Ohio University Performing Africa/ Visualizing Africa where I gave a workshop on my system Greenotation. Jean Johnson Jones, head of the department of Labanotation at Surrey England, and Odette Blum were in attendance. I believe it was the first time that Odette has seen my work Greenotation. JJJ who has known me for thirty years has seen some it, from early days at DNB. But she too has not had a complete demonstration of it until now. Jean has been actively involved in notation of African dance, and will further examine my work now she has seen it in its entirety.

The selection the Agbadza was performed from the printed page. Odette questioned why the tick marks did not match the pulse. My response was that the African does not view his music and dance as separate integers of the whole. They view their music and dance as a single integrated whole. Therefore, the tick marks represent the rhythm as sounded by the Bell. All of the instruments of the ensemble take their cue from the bell. But it is the master drummer who plays off the rhythm of the bell, producing sounds (in drum language or onomatopoeia) that actually instruct the dancer which movements to perform which equals Action timing, not metric timing

Odette stated that she was taught to dance on the pulse, counting one, two, etc. I explained to her that if she looks at the AGBADZA, she would notice that she is stepping on the backside of the pulse, not on the pulse. This is a common practice in African and Black music. I explained to Odette that her training was very different from mine. I was taught to dance (Action timing) from the drum language, not counts or pulses, as that would be segmenting the selection. In fact when drums were not available, I was taught entire dances by drum onomatopoeia spoken by the drummer. One must know that Action timing in no way effects the pulse. I stressed this to Ann when she was preparing a presentation for CORD conference in Georgia. Ann also has a tape of all the instruments used in Agbadza. To be successful in notating African dance, it is better to approach it from the African perspective, which is Action rhythm.

The use of metric counts, or the western approach to African music/dance definitely has its drawbacks. Speaking as a western classical trained musician, I recognize the confusion this can cause when trying to superimpose it on African music/dance.

The participants at the conference had no difficulty playing the instruments, clapping and dancing the rhythms from the printed page. It needs to stressed that rhythmic timing is the most beneficial approach to effective notation of African dance.
[end of Doris' paper]

Following is the notation Doris referred to in her paper.

Discussion of Doris' Paper

Point of Discussion: The placement of the tick marks in Agbadza (see above).
Usually tick marks in Labanotation indicate the pulse of the movement or its musical accompaniment. In contrast, in Doris's score (Greenotation) for Agbadza, the tick marks in the Labanotation portion of the score coincide with the asymmetrical rhythm indicated for the bell instrument (Gonkoqui). Doris feels her method of indicating timing makes it possible to record the way Africans perceive their music and dances.

The consensus of the group was that the placement of the ticks in Agbadza seems fine since it reflects purpose of Doris' score: to accurately record African dance and its music from the African perspective. Perhaps the score's unconventional use of ticks could be clarified in a glossary.

What if the purpose of the notation was to show "Western" stagers how African dances should be performed? In that case would it be better to have the ticks indicate the pulse of the movement? Doris said she did not think so. She has found that even people who are completely unfamiliar with African dance have no trouble reading her scores and can reproduce the indicated timing accurately.

The group also discussed ideas for depicting both Western and African perspectives in the same score, e.g., writing the different perspectives in separate staffs that would be placed side by side on the page, or using colors to differentiate tick marks that have different meaning.

The discussion ended with Doris leading the participants in a rhythm exercise, tapping different rhythms simultaneously (easy for Doris, but not for some of us).

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