Monday, January 25, 2010

One Notator's Use of Effort Symbols in Structured LN Scores

One Notator's Use of Effort Symbols in Structured LN Scores
Submitted by Sandra Aberkalns and Charlotte Wile - April 22, 2005

A little background information

While a student at the Dance Notation Bureau I studied Effort for two years (along with kinesiology, music, etc). The text used in that course was A Primer for Movement Description Using Effort-Shape and Supplementary Concepts by Cecily Dell (1970, Revised Second Edition 1977). Later, as a notator (trained in the use of Labanotation specifically to record choreographic works), two texts became my primary resources for information regarding Effort (dynamics):

  • Knust's Dictionary of Kinetography Laban (1979, Part LII, p. 280) "Strength Measurement Signs", which are extremely basic.

  • Ann Hutchinson's Labanotation (1954, Revised Third Edition 1977).
It should also be noted that at the International Council of Kinetography Laban biennial conferences "Dynamics, issue of…" has been an ongoing issue/discussion since 1979 with all decisions on the topic deferred. And Effort is not covered in either the Advanced Labanotation Course or Notator Training Program.

Ann Hutchinson's text provides the most practical guideline to notators. On p. 477 she offers the following perspective on the use of dynamics in the context of structured notation (and on p. 509 includes symbology for the "Eight Basic Efforts").

… In dance dynamics is the area of study that concentrates on how a movement is performed, the quality or texture. Dynamic description includes use of energy, of the weight of the body, resistance to or giving in to the force of gravity, control or lack of control in movement, difference between muscular or emotional intensity, and so on. For many purposes only a general statement need be made and only a few basic symbols employed to modify the structured time-body-space description.

Many patterns of movements contain innate dynamics, which are usually performed unconsciously… [she goes on to list several examples of high level versus low etc]. In terms of dynamics the effect of musical accompaniment on movement must not be overlooked. The same movement sequence will be performed with different dynamic qualities when danced to different pieces of music. This will be so in spite of the fact that the same tempi and metric structure may be present in each piece.

I agree with Hutchinson that many/most choreographic works require only basic dynamic indications if any at all. Also, as Hutchinson states in the second paragraph the nature of the movement patterns in conjunction with the music often dictates how the movement will be executed (i.e. innate dynamics). However, when I became resident notator for the Paul Taylor Dance Company (in 1987), Taylor often times would specifically require (either verbally or through physical demonstration) his dancers to execute a movement with a particular Effort/dynamic. So I started to regularly incorporate Effort into those scores—albeit incorrectly—consistently (at least I was consistent) using Drives rather than the more probable States.

By the early 1990s I realized I was out of my league and needed help, so I approached Charlotte Wile who has generously offered me both her time and knowledge through many a score over the years. In 2000 I came across an Effort conundrum, which naturally I needed a solution for already yesterday. Fortunately for me Wile had been thinking about the same problem for quite some time and had some ideas/solutions ready to present me.

Intensity level of Effort in structured scores

Please note that glossary entries and notated examples from the score are included for discussion/illustration purposes only and should not be reproduced in any form without permission.

1. The Quintet Conundrum

During the staging of Alvin Ailey's Quintet ("Luckie's" solo) stager and Executive Director of Ailey II Sylvia Waters very clearly stated and demonstrated the intention behind one of the movement phrases. The character "Luckie" is an angry and frustrated young woman. The movement in this particular phrase was to begin very strong and controlled, but with each subsequent repeat her "anger" was to dissipate while not entirely disappearing. In effect, Waters wanted the movement to retain the same emotional and movement dynamic with lessening degree of intensity.

2. The discussion

In creating "new" symbols for a choreographic work there are pros and cons. The pro side is that everything is glossarized so the meaning of that symbol in that particular score is understood. Later if you choose to use the same symbol in another score and you weren't satisfied with either the symbol or the meaning attached to it previously you can always tweak it. The con side is that you have to finish the score and cannot spend an indefinite period of time really discussing/considering the long-term theoretical ramifications of your decision. If you come up with a symbol that meets your needs at that moment you simply go with it. However, this can lead to confusion, as a stager will then have to remember which meaning is attached to which score if that symbol is reused regularly with different meanings.

One idea that Wile and I discussed was to use "+" and "-" generally indicating "more" and "less". The first question was on which side of the symbol to place the modification. If placed to the left (Ex. 2a) would it be interpreted differently from being placed on the right (Ex. 2b)?

For my needs how much room was available in the staff determined on which side of the Effort the modification would be placed.

A major concern, particularly from Wile's perspective and which has yet to be resolved, was that in some situations it is not clear which Effort the modification is modifying. For instance, does the “+” sign in Ex. 2c refer to the Light or Strong Effort?

Wile addressed these issues for Motif Notation in two Theory Bulletin Board postings (Effort thread, December 15, 2003; Effort thread, January 20, 2004). Her idea was to attach the "+" and "-" modifications to the Effort sign. Moderate Effort would be shown with a slanted line through the Effort sign. Effort where the intensity is irrelevant or unspecified could be shown with an unmodified sign (Ex. 2d-h).

My opinion (currently) is that in a structured LN score that kind of detailed analysis is not required and the modifier (in this case the + or - ) would be comparable to a pre-sign, which is understood to modify the entire symbol.

Another problem with the plus/minus as a modifier was what happened if you needed to say it was more than, for example, a slight amount of increased Effort (Ex. 2a or 2b)--what if it was a moderate or marked amount (Ex. 2i). [Author's note: the three terms in italics are currently being used by Wile for the intensity of Effort, and two of the terms ("slight" and "marked") are being used by Hutchinson in regards to flexion/extension.] Both Wile and I agreed the + and - symbols were unacceptable for her needs and mine.

The second modifier discussed by Wile and myself was to use numbers. I cannot recall why I rejected that solution at that time. However, I would revisit that as a decision in the near future.

Ray Cook proposed the third solution when he was invited to join our discussion. His perspective was that as Labanotation already had a history of using other musical indications why not use "f" and "p"? [Author's Note: In music "f' indicates forte or loud, and "ff" is fortissimo or very loud. In the other direction "p" is piano or soft and "pp" is pianissimo or very soft]. Another advantage in using "f" and "p" as modifiers is that while those letters of the alphabet may be used to identify a dancer these are not letters found in the symbological aspect of the system.

I agreed with Cook that using familiar symbols would facilitate reading and understanding. Although Wile and I were both convinced that this was not the ultimate solution it served my purposes for that score and the decision was made. So while the wording of Quintet's glossary entry (Ex. 2j) has left a lot be desired this is the entry as it is in the score today.

[Author's note regarding Ex. 2j: notice that while I glossarized the single "p" as Slight[er] the single "f" is glossarized as Marked—i.e. I bypassed the triple "fff" problem]

Ex. 2k shows how Effort was used in the finished Quintet score.

3. Revisiting the Quintet Conundrum

In 2003 I was notating a new work by Mark Morris titled All Fours. As I was scribbling away I clearly heard him say that the movement should be "markedly more" than what they [the dancers] naturally wanted to do. The moment I heard "markedly" my head snapped up. As Morris choreographs with music score in hand my first reaction was to look at the music score. Was Morris referring to the musical term "marcato—in a marked and emphatic style" or was he referring to the intensity of a dynamic he was looking for and using the work "marked" in the same sense as Wile? [Author's note: there is nothing in the music score indicating "marcato"].

Ex. 3a is the movement that Morris was working on (without any dynamics). [Author's note: this is a reduced version of the movement. More detail is included in the score's glossary, which is not needed for this discussion].

From the way Morris was talking about the movement I knew that intensity would need to be included and I called Wile once again for her help.

This time I could not use musical terms to describe intensity for several reasons. Firstly, Wile and I weren't happy with the solution three years earlier. Secondly, with Morris's musical knowledge there was no way I could justify that symbology if he were to ask me about it (he would be instantly attracted to any musical indications he would see in the notation score).

So once again Wile and I discussed solutions. This time the use of numbers seemed to be the right solution for me because:

• The numbers had no relation to any musical symbols.
• In this context the numbers would not be mistaken for any other notation symbols.
• One number is all you need to modify the intensity of the symbol.
• Currently three levels of intensity exist (Slight, Moderate, and Marked—1, 2, 3). In time, if further distinction of intensity is required, the numbering system can easily accommodate that need.

However, while the numbering system clearly indicated the level of intensity the problem still remained (again, more for Wile than for me), was where to place the numbers and what they would mean.

Ex. 3b shows the actual glossary entry for All Fours.

Effort symbols inform the stager as to the Effort needed not the amount of Effort required. For example, the first symbol below indicates "Strong Weight". However, how strong is strong?

Ex. 3c shows how Effort was used in the finished All Fours score.

4. Conclusion

Should Effort be used in LN scores? Yes, when appropriate—particularly in cases where the movement is ambiguous and definitely in cases where the choreographer/stager is very specific about the dynamic. Only through the use of Effort will the stager know how to proceed in teaching/conveying the choreographer's intent (especially when word notes are not used or required). [Author's Note: some musicians have lamented for years that certain music scores, for example a piano work by Mozart, does not include more detail as to how the keys should be struck].

Not only does the need to use Effort in scores exist but also, being able to qualify the intensity of Effort when required. The discussion should now be how to best unify the usage between the various Laban communities and those using Effort in choreographic works. While total unification may not be possible, as the needs of the various groups differ, if usage guidelines can be established it may encourage notators to use more Effort in LN scores.

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