Thursday, January 28, 2010

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, November 5, 2007

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, November 5, 2007
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - April 4, 2008

[Following are minutes for the Open Theory Meeting held at the Dance Notation Bureau, November 5, 2007. The minutes were written by Charlotte Wile.]

Present: Sandra Aberkalns, Zack Brown, Tina Curran, Jen Garda, Ann Hutchinson Guest, Mira Kim, Mei-Chen Lu, Christian Matjias, Jan Pforsich, Lucy Venable, Lynne Weber, Charlotte Wile.

1. Palm and Thumb Facing
2. The term “Front Sign”
3. Counting Issues
4. Graham Hand and Torso Contractions
5. Entrances and Exits
6. Direction Sign Progression


At the October 1 meeting the group discussed the following issue:

Ray is editing a Labanotation score by Odette Blum that contains the notation shown in Ex. 1a below. [Note: Ex. 1a -1e should be read as though they are in the arm column of a Labanotation score]. He wondered how the palm facing in 1a should be interpreted. Half way through the movement the palm is facing place low. Does the palm stay facing place low as the arm completes the movement to forward middle? Or is the palm facing cancelled for the rest of the arm movement, i.e., does the palm finish facing left middle (the “normal” facing when the arm is forward middle)? In other words, should the timing of the palm indication be taken from the length of the sign it modifies or from the length of the palm indication?

At this meeting, the group added the following to the discussion.

Using a thumb facing in 1a instead of the palm facing would not work because there would still be a problem with timing, in this case the timing of the thumb facing.

The group wondered if there is there is a reason Odette had written 1a. Does she feel 1a means the same thing as 1b? Is 1b ever used in her score? If so, then 1a might mean something different from 1b. It would be useful to know the context in which she used 1a. Maybe Ray can ask Odette these questions and in a future meeting tell us what she says.

How can one clarify the meaning of ambiguous notation when the notator is not available? Looking at other scores by that person might help. Knowing the background of the notator would also be useful, e.g., does he/she have advanced training?

Everyone at the meeting felt that 1a and 1b indicate different movements. The meaning of 1b is clear [see the Oct. 1 minutes]. However, 1a is not clear. Such notation needs more instruction, e.g., a body hold sign, a space hold sign, or an away (disappear) sign, to clarify what happens to the palm during the second half of the movement. If 1a indicates the end palm facing is open to interpretation, then that should be stated in a glossary.

Jan said the movement people at the meeting did to demonstrate 1a and 1b looked like a turn of the arm, rather than a palm facing. She said writing the movement with just a palm facing draws attention to the distal end of the arm, when a movement (a turn) of the whole arm is really what is happening.

Sandra said that the notation of the movement should reflect the intent of the movement. In some cases the intent might be palm facing, while in others it might be turning.

The discussion lead to a related issue. Sandra demonstrated a movement in which the arm begins place high with the palm facing left and the thumb facing back (the understood facings). The arm then moves to the right, finishing with palm facing upward and the thumb still facing back. In other words, the palm facing changes, but the thumb facing stays the same. How can this movement be written using a thumb facing indication? Different ideas were discussed, including 1c-e. Everyone felt 1e is the best solution.

Lynne wondered if LabanWriter has the capability of doing the kind of searches that are done in word processing. For example, could one search all examples of 1c so they could be changed to 1e? Lucy said LabanWriter cannot do such searches.

At the October 1 meeting Ray said people often misread examples such as 1b, e.g., they change the palm facing at the very beginning of the movement. In a correct reading the palm facing takes as long the arm movement.

Ann said this reminded her of a situation many years back when Agnes DeMille wanted a demonstration of Labanotation. Someone showed her movement staged from a score of Rodeo. The performance of an arm movement in the demonstration was incorrect because the dancer mistakenly turned the palm at the beginning of the arm movement, when she should have given the movement the full timing indicated by the length of the palm indication.


Ann said she feels it is important to make sure that we call signs such as 2a “Front Signs,” since that denotes orientation in relation to the movement site (rather than the body). The signs should not be called “Facing Pins” or “Facing Tacks.” Knust and the Labanotation texts use the term “Front Sign.”


Ann feels it would be useful if LabanWriter could draw tick marks in a 6/8 meter so that the “1, 2” “strong beat” subdivision is distinguished from the six eight note subdivision, as in 3a [see Guest, Labanotation, 4th edition, p. 35]. LabanWriter cannot presently do this, but Lucy said it could be done in future versions of the software. Everyone at the meeting felt this would be an excellent idea.

Ann also discussed the importance of making sure notation students understand how to accurately indicate subdivisions in a beat, e.g., to make sure that “&” is always the half way point [see Guest, Labanotation, 4th edition, p. 33].

Jen said that dance teachers who have no music background often count music incorrectly, which can be very confusing.

Jen said the new DNB score style manual tells how counting should be indicated in scores, e.g., the difference between “1, &” and “1, e, &.” She feels this information will be very useful.

Jen talked about her Jean Erdman score. The music for the dance is by John Cage. Notating counts for the piece was very challenging. For instance, the dancers learned the dance using counts that do not always correspond to the music. As another example, in one section the dancer counts her shoulder movement one way and her leg movement another way. Jen felt these dancer’s counts were an integral part of the staging, so she included them in the score.
Ann: It is important in such scores to show the dancers’ counts are not the same as the music counts.


[Note from Charlotte: The hand and body positions that were physically demonstrated for this topic are difficult to describe in words. They can be viewed on the DVD of the meeting that is in the DNB archives.]

Sandra is notating Yuriko’s staging of Martha Graham’s Primitive Mysteries.

Sandra is not sure if Yuriko is staging the piece according to the way she learned it, or if she is teaching it the way it was performed when it was choreographed in the 1930’s.

Sandra: In Yuriko’s staging there are three different hand positions in the piece: the “shallow cup,” the “soft cup,” and the “hard cup.”

The shallow cup is very slightly cupped, but it is perceptible to the audience. The contraction in the hand is so slight (less than one degree) that Sandra is not sure how it should be notated.

The group gave suggestions. For example, would using the eight degree scales of contraction help? Or maybe it could be depicted as a three dimensional contraction that is half way between normal and one degree.

Sandra said she is not sure that using a three dimensional contraction sign would work, since that sign depicts movement that includes the knuckle joints. Maybe the shallow cup just involves movement that is initiated in the center of the palm and does not involve the knuckles. In contrast, the soft cup does involve the knuckles.

Ann: Maybe the shallow cup position does involve the knuckle joints, but they are not noticeable when one is just looking at the inside surface of the hand.

Sandra said perhaps the cupping involves an active movement centered in the palm, with the knuckle involvement just occurring passively.

Could the symbol for “relaxed” be used? Sandra said the shallow cup hand is not relaxed. In fact, when Sandra touched Yuriko’s hand when it was in the shallow cup position, Yuriko’s palm vibrated with energy.

Sandra demonstrated the difference between the shallow cup, the soft cup, and the hard cup.

Jan [who is an occupational therapist and has extensive experience working with hand movement] said maybe the shallow cup involves a lateral movement of the intrinsic muscles in the transverse arch of the hand. This can be done with a very slight displacement of the MCP joints (the knuckles).

Sandra: Maybe the notation could say the knuckles are excluded in the movement.

Sandra said the Graham people she is working with do not want her to quantify the concept of a shallow cup. They say the contraction is not about making a shape in the hand. Yuriko says the cupping actually begins in the bottom arch of the foot. The energy then works its way up through the legs and the torso, and then flows through the arms to produce the physical action in the hand.

Lucy: If the shallow cup is initiated in other body parts, then other body parts would also vibrate. That would need to be included in the notation. Sandra agreed with this idea.

Sandra said the movement is three dimensional. Ann questioned whether that could be done without involving the knuckles. Sandra said that in a one degree movement the fingers would not be included in the movement.

Christian talked about his experience playing the piano for Diane Grey’s rehearsals of Graham works. He told her that when he was learning to play the piano, he learned the importance of engaging the palm, rather than just playing with the fingers. His teacher made him practice holding limes in his palms, which helped him understand how to move his fingers while the hands maintained a position similar to the Graham shallow cup. This story gave Diane the idea of having her dancers practice cup positions while they held limes in their palms.

Graham torso contractions were also discussed at the meeting. Sandra said there are several versions of the contraction:

- A contraction that is mainly about lifting up the abdomen. This is the contraction that appears in Grahams earliest works. Sandra thinks it came about because the early costumes were so tight they forced the dancers to “suck in” their abdomen.
- A lower body contraction.
- An upper body contraction.
- A contraction in which there is a “release.”

Sandra said Yuriko’s idea of the contraction seems different from what is usually indicated in past scores and other written documentation. In the past, notators have used indications that denote a shorting of the body. However, Yuriko says the body actually lengthens in the contraction, and the movement starts in the bottom arch of the foot. Yuriko also says there are five points in the body that need to be perpendicular during the movement: the ankles, the front of the hips, the front of the shoulders, the ears, and the forehead. She uses the image of a ribbon that lengthens when you run a scissors across it to make it curl. In addition, she says doing a contraction feels like “throwing up” (regurgitating). Christian said Diane Grey used the same imagery and descriptions.

Jen: Maybe previous methods of notating contractions show how contractions are experienced 
during floor exercises in a Graham technique classes. The purpose of the exercises is to train muscles that are needed later for doing contractions on the feet. Contractions that are done on the feet, as in the ones Yuriko described, may be different from those in preparatory exercises.

Lynne: Mickey Topaz said Graham technique evolved and changed over the years.

Sandra said she thinks that the technique was actually pretty well established in the 1930’s and only minor changes were made.

Ann disagreed with this. She said the technique changed over the years, especially when Yuriko and Pearl Lang started dancing with the company.

Jen said this brought to mind her conversations with members of the Limon Dance Company, who described how much Limon technique has changed over the years. Jen said it is understandable that dance techniques change over time since dancers themselves have changed, e.g., dancers in various eras have had different body types. The movement of non-dancers has evolved and changed as well. This is why today’s dancers may find it challenging to perform early works like Primitive Mysteries.

Jen said it is always important to say in the score who staged the work as it was being notated. Even if the choreographer is the person staging the work, he/she may have changed the work over time.

Sandra: Past methods of notating contractions (e.g., 4a below) do not work for Yuriko’s idea of the contraction. Yuriko’s description refers to inner aspects of the body, similar to the way movement in Yoga is perceived. Writing just the symbol for the abdomen is not enough. Perhaps what is needed are symbols for muscles and anatomy inside of the body.

Sandra: On the other hand, are we trying to analyze something that cannot be analyzed because it is so different on each person?

Ann: The basic movement can be analyzed. People explain it differently because they sense it differently.

Charlotte: The same is true for many movements. For instance, people stand on their toes differently because their feet are different shapes, but the basic idea of standing on the toes is the same.

Jen: Today’s modern dance choreographers often refer to movement based on interior muscles, rather than just exterior body features. Symbols for muscles might be useful in notating these dances.

Lucy: There could be a problem with indicating individual muscles. Movement is never produced by just one muscle. Each movement affects muscles everywhere the body. What is important in the description is the end result, e.g., the changes that occur in the shape of the body-as-a-whole.

Charlotte: Even if a choreographer says to “think about” moving an individual muscle, is that what is actually happening? Perhaps the intention bow, words, or explanations in the glossary could be used to document the choreographer’s imagery.

Ann: Knust has symbols for the inside of the head, e.g., the teeth, the tongue, the soft pallet, etc. Perhaps the same idea could be used for symbols that describe the inner sensations experienced when moving other body portions.
The “x” is used in some symbols to indicate “inside,” however, this probably would not work because the “x” has so many other meanings. For instance, an “x” inside the sign for area (a box) means the waist.

Tina: Maybe there is information in the LMA work that would be useful in this discussion. [Addendum from Charlotte. For instance, maybe the concepts and symbols for "Patterns of Total Body Connectivity" could be adapted for this purpose. See Peggy Hackney, Making Connections: Total Body Integration Through Bartenieff Fundamentals (Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach, 1998).]

Tina: In this discussion we should look systemically at what is needed by choreographers, practitioners, etc. We should keep in mind other fields beyond dance, such as Yoga, Pilates, and Body Mind Centering.

How should the indications under discussion be derived? Should they consist of symbols that are already in the system, with modifications that say “inner”? Or should a completely new family of symbols be developed?

The discussion returned to the different ways contractions have been defined.

Sandra wondered if the concept of “passive movement” plays a part. For instance, should a somersaulting pelvis in a contraction be indicated as a “passive” result of other aspects of the movement? Also, maybe the idea of “backward” should not be in the description, since the contraction may be more about “uplift.”

Ann said that she learned that the contraction started in the pelvis. The movement of the pelvis is an active action.

Lynne said in the early 70's she learned that in a contraction there is “lifting,” but there also is pressure backward against the spine.

Sandra: Yuriko says that one should “suck it up against the spine.”

The group felt it would be important to have Sandra’s score of Primitive Mysteries reflect Yuriko’s perception of the movement.

During the discussion, several ideas were given for indicating a contraction, e.g.:

Ex. 4a below shows the way Mira was taught to write it in notator training. This is similar to the indications Clover Roope and Mickey Topaz used in their notation of Graham technique [1968?].

Ex. 4b shows a suggestion from Ann. (The square with the circle on the top indicates the sternum, a moveable part of the chest.)

Zack suggested the addition of an Effort symbol, as in 4c.

One of Sandra’s ideas is shown in 4d. (She said this could also contain an indication that shows the sternum is “soft.”)


Lucy wanted to know if indications for entering and exiting from offstage can be blank, as in 5a below, or do they need the “wide” sign, as in 5b. Lucy feels that 5b is overwriting.

In Knust’s early writings, exits and entrances were indicated with the blank sign. Guest, Labanotation, 4th edition (p. 322) also uses the blank sign.

Most people in the group agreed with Lucy that in most circumstances the “wide” signs are not needed. In 5a, the horizontal line extending out from the staff tells the reader that the movement begins offstage. Also, the floor plans would reinforce where there is an entrance or exit.

There are certain times when the wide signs might be helpful, as in a score where the floor plans are not on the same page as their associated staffs. Also, the wide indications could be used to clarify or emphasize that the movement begins or finishes offstage, e.g., as in a leap that begins onstage and ends offstage (Ex. 5c). However, even in this case the blank sign could be used, since the reader would know from the extended line and the floor plan where the exit or entrance occurs (Ex. 5d). The “wide” area sign might also be used to remind the reader that a long sequence of movement is occurring offstage, as in a whole page of notation describing a complicated lift that begins offstage.

Tina wondered if using the blank sign could be confusing since so many scores have area signs that contain the wide signs. Maybe the reader would wonder why the wide sign is missing. They might think the blank sign has a different meaning.

Sandra said this is why it is important for scores to be checked. Sometimes a notator in one score might use a symbol or writing that an exception to the rule. Then later the notator gets into the habit of writing that way in all her/his scores, even though that symbol or usage does not follow what has been standardized.

Other uses of the area sign with the wide sign were discussed, e.g., looking offstage.

Sandra said this discussion made her think about the issue of writing starting positions. She said she does not feel scores always need to indicate offstage starting positions. The notation should just show what happens when the movement begins, unless the offstage position is an important part of the dance. Ann agreed with this idea.


Tina showed how direction signs in Labanotation and Motif Notation can be used to indicate a progression of specificity.

Tina said she and Ann designed the Motif Notation direction signs so they would lead into Labanotation indications.

Ann said she first discovered a need for more freedom in indicating direction many years ago when she was working with a dancer from Ghana.

Tina described the Motif Notation direction signs first, using forward signs as an example:

Ex. 6a indicates all the forward space, any level. Ex. 6a can also be indicated with the sign in 6b.

The space indicated by 6a has three subdivisions: the forward high area, the forward middle area, the forward low area. For instance, 6c indicates the forward middle area.

Ex. 6d indicates more or less forward middle (the range of space is a little smaller than 6c). This can also be indicated with the sign in 6e.

Ex. 6f indicates the exact location of forward middle [as it is defined in Labanotation].

A box can be placed in different places on the direction sign to show variations in timing. For example:

Ex. 6g says begin in the forward space (any level) and then continue moving in that space.

Ex. 6h says one-half of the movement time is spent on the way to the forward space (any level); the other half of the duration is movement in that space.

Ex. 6i says the entire duration of the movement is spent on the way to arriving at some destination in the forward space (any level) (i.e., the same as 6a).

Tina then discussed Labanotation direction signs, again using forward middle indications as an example:

Ex. 6j indicates the forward middle area.

Ex. 6k indicates more or less forward middle (the range of space is a little smaller than 6j).

Ex. 6l indicates the exact location of forward middle. 

Everyone except Charlotte felt the indications Tina presented work well.

[Addendum from Charlotte. I think the meaning of the symbols in Labanotation is fine. However, I believe there are problems with the Motif Notation signs. For instance, I think in Motif Notation it would be useful if the box could be placed on any direction sign to show timing. As an example, 6e (“more or less forward middle”) could then be written with the timing variations shown in 6m-o. In the paradigm that Tina described, this is not possible because then the forward area signs and the “more or less forward middle” signs would be the same, e.g., 6c above would be the same as 6o.

Also, as I see it, the freedom of interpretation given to the sign in 6c is what is needed most of the time in Motif Notation. With the symbols that Tina described, this means that most of the time direction signs must have boxes. I feel this very cumbersome.

I have some further thoughts and possible solutions to these issues that I hope we can discuss at a future meeting.]

Sandra asked about another issue. She would like to develop a way to say the following: Do a movement anywhere in a direction area. When that movement is repeated, it must be in the same location that was chosen for the original movement. In other words, there is freedom in interpretation, but that interpretation must always be the same.

Charlotte suggested using a variation of the sign for “the same movement” [see Bullet-In-Stead, No. 19, January 2203, p. 3].

[Addendum from Charlotte: For instance, in 6p, unit 1, the mover can choose to go to any location within the forward middle area. The location depicted in 6p, unit 2 could be the same or different from the location chosen for unit 1. In 6q, the location in unit 2 must be the same as the location chosen for unit 1. In 6r, the location in unit 2 must be different from the location chosen for unit 1.] 

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