Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2001 Motif Symposium Proceedings - Theory Discussions, part 2

Submitted by Charlotte Wile - June 5, 2001

[This posting contains a compilation of background material written for the 2001 Motif Symposium. The material was included in Proceedings of the Inaugural Motif Symposium, Symbols of Our Community…Moving Forward with Motif, August 2-4, 2002, Held at The Department of Dance, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, Sponsored by Language of Dance Center, USA, Motus Humanus, The Ohio State University Department of Dance, compiled by Tina Curran, Jimmyle Listenbee, and Charlotte Wile, Scribe, Jane Dulieu.]

Discussion 1. The Use of the Sign for "Any" in the Indication for the Carving Shape Mode

As we continue to develop and refine Motif Description, it is important to maintain uniformity in the system. For instance, when the meaning of a sign conflicts with agreed upon interpretations, it can be very confusing. I believe such inconsistency can be found in the Carving (Molding) Shape Mode sign.

The sign for the Carving Shape Mode is shown in Ex. 1a. It contains a wavy line that looks like an ad lib. sign, i.e., the sign for "any" (Ex. 1b). Therefore, Ex 1a looks like it should mean "any Shape Mode" instead of "Carving."

What could be done to solve this problem? One idea is to change the drawing of the Carving sign so it looks like 1c. That way its meaning would not be misinterpreted. Indeed, to my eye the curlicue line in 1c expresses the idea of Carving even better than the wavy line in 1a.

Since this discussion is about consistency, perhaps we should also consider if all indications that make an "any" statement should incorporate the ad lib. sign. If so, we would need to change several indications, including any turn (Ex. 1d), any Shape Mode (Ex. 1e), any Effort (Ex. 1f), any limb (Ex. 1g), any body area (Ex. 1h), and any aerial movement (Ex. 1i).

For example, the sign for any turn could be Ex. 1j, and the sign for any Shape Mode might be Ex. 1k (i.e., the previous sign for Carving). What other signs would need to be changed? How would the ad lib. sign be incorporated?
On the other hand, would such an overhaul of the system be too impractical and confusing?

Discussion 2. Proposals for Indicating Unspecified Axial Movement

How is unspecified axial movement (i.e., movement that stays in place and does not travel) indicated in Motif Description? A sign for such movement has not been standardized. Several ideas for it were discussed in various postings on the Theory Bulletin Board (Ray Cook, Ann Hutchinson Guest, Jimmyle Listenbee, Lucy Venable, Charlotte Wile, 1999), including those in Ex. 2a-2d.

Ex. 2a is derived from an action stroke and a spot hold. Ex. 2b consists of the sign for traveling on any path with a slash through it (i.e., don't travel). Ex. 2c contains an action stroke and the sign for "in place." Ex. 2d contains the sign for "in place" and an ad lib. sign.


In developing the indication for axial movement, we need to consider how timing would be shown. For instance, the time value of the indication could be extended by the lengthening it, as in 2e-2h, by putting it in a bracket, as in Ex. 2i, or by adding a duration line, as in Ex. 2j.

The Number of Axial Movements

How could the number of axial movements be indicated? There should be a way to specify that there is one movement, two movements, etc. There should also be a way to say "do any number of axial movements."

Perhaps Ex. 2k would indicate one movement because it contains a single action stroke. Is there a way that sign could be used to indicate an unspecified number of axial movements? On the Bulletin Board Lucy Venable suggested it could be shown as in Ex. 2l. Ann Hutchinson Guest responded that the spot sign in Lucy's notation would need an action stroke, as in Ex. 2m. Ray Cook thought the sign in Ex. 2n could indicate one axial movement, and an unspecified number of movements would be indicated as in Ex. 2o. Ann wrote that Ray's Ex. 2o states nothing about the number of movements and wondered if it would relate to the sign for "either side" (Ex. 2p). My most recent idea (earlier I had suggested the sign in 2k) is to indicate one axial movement as in Ex. q, a specific number as in Ex. 2r, and an unspecified number as in Ex. 2s. Example 2s contains a sign I invented for "any number" (Ex. 2t), which is derived from the sign for number (Ex. 2u).

Which Sign Works Best?

As I presently see it, Ex. 2a, 2b, and 2d would probably not be suitable for indicating unspecified axial movement. Ex. 2a would not work because its "spot hold " would exclude movements that stay in place but do not stay on the same spot, e.g., aerial movements. Likewise, I feel Ex. 2b should be disqualified because it makes the negative statement "don't travel," while what is needed is an indication that states the idea affirmatively: "do axial movement," or "do movement in place." Finally, I think Ex. d is awkward and not good for showing the number of axial movements.

The one indication that I think might do the job is Ex. 2c, because an action stroke combined with an "in place" sign would clearly suggest the idea of doing movement in place. Also, Ex. 2c can be easily modified to show the duration and number of movements. On the other hand, maybe that indication also has problems that I am not seeing.

Using the Sign

One way to test the efficacy of a proposed indication is to use it in various contexts. For instance, the sequences below show some ways Ex. 2c might be used. In creating the sequences, it occurred to me that perhaps actions could also be written inside the axial movement indication, as in 2x.


Is the term "axial" appropriate for a sign under consideration? Some people like it. However, some people feel the definition of "axial" does not include movements such as stepping in place and jumping in place. If they are correct, then "axial" should not be used, since the sign we are seeking would indicate any or all movements in place. What term would be suitable?

Discussion 3. Indicating Body Portion Involvement

How do we notate the body portion involvement of a movement? In other words, how would the following be indicated?
  1. A movement in which the body portion involvement is unspecified, insignificant, or irrelevant (i.e., it could be either whole body movement or a gesture).
  2. A whole body movement (i.e., a movement of the body-as-a-whole).
  3. A gesture (i.e., a movement of a discrete body part that does not carry the body's weight).
We will consider three different methods that could be used to show these variables.

Method One
  • An indication in which body portion involvement is unspecified has an ad. lib pre-sign, as in Ex. 3a.
  • An indication for a whole body movement has no pre-sign, as in Ex. 3b.
  • An indication for a gesture has a body part pre-sign, as in Ex. c.

Method Two
  • An indication in which body portion involvement is unspecified has no pre-sign, as in Ex. 3d.
  • An indication for a whole body movement has a whole body pre-sign as in Ex. 3e.
  • An indication for a gesture has a body part pre-sign, as in Ex. 3f.

Method Three
  • An indication in which body portion involvement is unspecified has an ad lib. pre-sign, as in Ex. 3g.
  • An indication for a whole body movement has a whole body pre-sign, as in Ex. 3h.
  • An indication for a gesture of an unspecified body part has no pre-sign, as in Ex. 3i. (Specific body part involvement is indicated with a pre-sign, as in Ex 3j.)

Applying the Methods

The charts below show how various indications would be written using the three methods. For the sake of brevity, only certain representative movements are depicted. However symposium participants may want to consider how the three methods would be used in notating other movement components, e.g., Body Shapes, Shape Modes, relationships, etc.

Notice that in all the charts, weight transference, falls, and aerial movements are only depicted as whole body movements (with pre-signs unnecessary). That is because the way they are defined in Motif Description makes them inherently whole body movements. "Weight transference" is concerned with transferring the main weight of the whole body, "falling" means taking the whole body's center of weight off balance, and in an "aerial movement" the whole body leaves the supporting surface.

Also, in Method One and Method Two the indication for a gestural path by an unspecified body part can be indicated with a pre-sign (as in the chart) or without a pre-sign.

Argument in Favor of Method Two

While good arguments might be made for all three methods described above, I will discuss why I prefer Method Two.

I feel unmodified statements should be indicated with unmodified symbols. In other words, if all I am saying is "do a turn," then all the symbol should show is the idea of "turn." If the statement is modified, as in "turn the arm," or "turn the whole body," a modifying symbol can be added, such as a body part or whole body pre-sign. That is the way indications are written in Method Two.

For instance, Method Two is used Ex. 3k, which shows notation that was written for a children's creative dance class. The notation tells the children to do movement in which they think about flexing in unit 1, turning in unit 2, and so forth. The sequence is just about doing certain actions. As the children interpret the notation, they focus on those actions; the body portion(s) they use to do the movement is not important or relevant. The unmodified signs in the notation clearly depict this idea. Adding ad. lib. signs, as one would need to do with Method One or Three, would be cumbersome and extraneous. (This issue will also be discussed later in this paper in the section "Direction - Axial Movement and Traveling.")

A Proposal for Body Portion Involvement Keys

Perhaps it would be useful to have all three methods available. Then one could choose the method that best suits the purpose or format of the notation. For instance, suppose most of the indications in a dance score specify whole body movement. In that situation Method One would probably be most advantageous, since the indications could be written without pre-signs, thereby making the notation less cumbersome. Similarly, notation that just depicts gestures (of unspecified body parts) in conversational movement might be easier to read using the Method Three.

Keys could be used to say which method is being used. For instance, Ex. 3l could stipulate Method One, Ex. 3m could stipulate Method Two, and Ex. 3n could stipulate Method Three. As with systems of reference, there could be one key that is assumed without being written. (The assumed key would only need to be used to cancel other keys, as in using the Standard System of Reference key to cancel a Body System of Reference key.)
The idea of using body portion involvement keys is illustrated in Ex 3o-q. In Ex. 3o Method Two is assumed without being written.

Discussion 4. Direction: Axial Movement and Traveling

How do we indicate an unspecified movement is one of the following?
  1. In a direction and either stays in place or travels (i.e., whether it stays in place or travels is irrelevant).
  2. In a direction and stays in place.
  3. In a direction and travels.
We will discuss two ideas for showing those variables:

Idea One

This idea was discussed in the LOD publication The Labanotator, No. 75, April 1994, p.6. (Example numbers have been changed to fit this paper's format.)
"[Ex. 4a] states a forward movement. Some people believe this can be interpreted as traveling froward, [4b]. But traveling is a major activity on its own and here the direction is a qualifier to that main activity. Should not a directional action be expressed as an axial, non-traveling movement? Such directional movement might be a shifting forward of the body, a tilting, a forward gesture, a forward focus for the head, etc."
If 4a specifies axial movement, and 4b specifies traveling, how would one just write "forward movement," without stating whether it is in place or travels? Looking through The Labanotaor, the LOD publication Bullet-In-Stead, and Ann Hutchinson Guest, Your Move (1995), I could not find the answer.
Idea Two

In order to make it possible to show all three of the variables listed above, I suggest the following:
  • Unspecified movement in a direction is indicated with an unmodified direction sign, as in 4c. (The movement may be in place or travel, but that is unimportant or irrelevant.)
  • To specify that the movement is in place, a sign for axial movement is added, as in 4d. (Since a sign for axial movement has not been established, I am using one that I discussed earlier in "Proposals for Unspecified Axial Movement.")
  • To show that the movement travels, a traveling indication is added, as in 4e.
Why I Like Idea Two

I prefer Idea Two because, as I said earlier ("Indicating Body Portion Involvement"), I feel that basic, unqualified statements, such as "go forward," should be indicated with the least embellished sign. When the statement is modified or qualified, as in "move forward while staying in place," a modifier, in this case an indication for axial movement, should be added to the basic indication.

Idea Two allows one to make a "pure" statement about "forwardness" without adding extraneous information. For instance, suppose Idea Two is used to notate the structure of a dance improvisation. An unmodified forward sign would tell the improviser that at that point in the dance he should just think about moving forward. Obviously, when the dancer actually executes the movement, he will either have to be in place or travel. But according to the notation, he should not be concerned with that aspect of the movement. The highlight of the movement, the only thing that is important or necessary, is that it goes forward.

Here is another example. Suppose the purpose of the notation is to record what someone says he first noticed when he looked at a movement: It is forward. Here again, the movement that he saw will have either traveled or been in place, but that is not relevant to his observation. All that he noticed was that it was forward, so that is the only feature that should be recorded. Idea Two makes this possible.

More Elaborate Statements

In order to fully discuss this topic we should also consider how to make more elaborate statements. For instance, how would one show traveling backward while gesturing forward?

In order to answer this question we need to know the rules of usage for indicating axial and traveling movement (e.g., using Idea One or Idea Two described above), and the rules of usage for showing body portion involvement (e.g., one of the three Methods described in "Indicating Body Portion Involvement").

First we will use Idea One and Method One. In summary this means:
  • Unmodified direction sign = axial movement.
  • Direction sign and an indication for traveling = traveling movement

  • Unmodified direction sign = whole body movement.
  • Direction sign with an ad lib. pre-sign = either whole body or gesture
  • Direction sign with a body part pre-sign = gesture.
Using those rules of usage, let us see how the following movements would be indicated. Note: Without knowing how to show that movement may be either in place or traveling, it is unclear how number one would be written.

  1. Forward movement, either axial or traveling; whole body or gesture. (unknown - no example)
  2. Axial movement with either the whole body or a body part going forward. (Ex. 4f)
  3. Axial movement with the whole body going forward (Ex. 4g)
  4. Axial movement while gesturing forward. (Ex.4h)
  5. Traveling with either the whole body or a body part going forward. (Ex. 4i)
  6. Traveling with the whole body going forward. (Ex. 4j)
  7. Traveling while gesturing forward. (Ex. 4k)
  8. Traveling backward while the whole body goes forward. (Ex. 4l)
  9. Traveling backward while gesturing forward. (Ex. 4m) 

Now let us see how the movements listed above would be indicated using the rules of usage that I favor: Idea Two described above, and Method Two in "Indicating Body Portion Involvement." This means:
  • Unmodified direction sign = either axial movement or traveling.
  • Direction sign and an indication for axial movement = axial movement.
  • Direction sign and an indication for traveling = traveling movement.

  • Unmodified direction sign = either whole body or gesture.
  • Direction sign with a whole body pre-sign = whole body movement.
  • Direction sign with a body part pre-sign = gesture.
Using these rules, all the movement in the list can be indicated:
  1. Forward movement, either axial or traveling; whole body or gesture. (Ex. 4n)
  2. Axial movement with either the whole body or a body part going forward. (Ex. 4o)
  3. Axial movement with the whole body going forward (Ex. 4p)
  4. Axial movement while gesturing forward. (Ex. 4q)
  5. Traveling with either the whole body or a body part going forward. (Ex. 4r)
  6. Traveling with the whole body going forward. (Ex. 4s)
  7. Traveling while gesturing forward. (Ex. 4t)
  8. Traveling backward while the whole body goes forward. (Ex. 4u)
  9. Traveling backward while gesturing forward. (Ex. 4v)

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