Submitted by Oliver Bandel, Odette Blum, and David Leland - November 25, 2002
[Following are excerpts from comments originally posted on the LabanTalk listservs in October 2002]
Posting 1, Oliver Bandel, October 20, 2002
How can a rotation be written in Labanotation and/or Motif?
(Yes, I know, there are symbols for pirouettes in motif, but a pirouette is a rotation of whole body. What about rotation of limbs? Can it be written in a similar way, using pirouette-symbols for a limb? (A right-arm-"pirouette"?!)
Is this possible with the so called "vector"-symbols of Laban?
For gaining more clarity in my movements I want to think about things like translation and rotation in a more mathematical sense, because normally in dance-classes there are a lot of different ways "to say it," but often it lacks in clarity (at least for not-dancing-since-the-age-of-three people).
So again I started thinking about using vector-notation (in a mathematical sense), thinking about "right/left"vs. "clockwise/counterclockwise," thinking about the historical used ballet terms (en dehors/en dedans) and such.
I want to write a small paper about it, for gaining clarity for myself as well as explaining to other people - who have the same problems of understanding - this geometrical stuff. (It's not only a geometrical question, it's a question of dance-history and a question of "how to teach" too.)
Well, while thinking about these things I also was wondering how to "say it in labanese language.”
There are other notation systems, which use rotation as its base philosophy, and I think this has a lot of advantages sometimes. So, maybe it's possible to add rotation terms into Labanotation too?
Or are there such symbols, but I have not noticed it?
Keywords here are: translation, rotation, en dedans, en dehors, (mathematical) vector-notation, Cartesian coordinates, mirror-symmetry,
I think it's necessary to have a more abstract/formal way of explaining historical (as well as newer) dance styles, and explaining why these historical forms of dance have been developed.
Maybe there are such "typography of dance"books, but I don't know them. If there are such books or papers, please let me know.
But my first question here was: How to write down rotation in Labanotation/Motif-notation?
Any hint is welcome.
Posting 2, Odette Blum - October 20, 2002
The symbol for turning around the vertical or longitudinal axis (the ballet pirouette) is also used for parts of the body. In Motif you add a body hold symbol in the base of the turn symbol to indicate that the base is held. There are also symbols for turning around the lateral axis (somersaulting actions of the whole body or parts) and around the sagittal axis for cartwheeling actions of the whole body or parts).
In Labanotation the hold sign in the symbol is not needed for gestures because the symbol is placed in the appropriate column for the body part or has a body part pre-sign.
See page 96 of Your Move: A New Approach to the Study of Movement and Dance, by Ann Hutchinson Guest, and page 469 in Labanotation by Ann Hutchinson
Posting 3, Oliver Bandel, October 20, 2002
OK. When we are going a pathway (circle) forward "to the right,” or "to the left," this can create a lot of problems.
After using the terms "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" we all are happy, because we have solved the problem of ambiguities of used terms.
Ok, as mentioned above, we are all happy and understanding all words of dance-teachers, if they use the terms "en dehors" as well as "en dedans.”
Let's imagine a nice story:
Some weeks later a very good artist/dancer enters the company and he can dance the same parts of the choreography on his feet as well as on his hands.
When he is doing his en dehors/en dedans turns/pirouettes, all is clear, when he is doing these movements on his feet.
After turning his kinesphere up side down, dancing the same choreography on his hands, the problem of "right/left" vs. "clockwise/counterclockwise" comes back in a more awkward manner:
We not only have the problem of doing correct movements in the right-left dimension, we also have the problem of doing correct movements in the up-down dimension.
How can this problem be solved? And: how is it solved in the (Laban-/Motif-) notation?
Posting 4, David Leland, October 20, 2002
[Responding to Oliver Bandel’s comments in Posting 3. Note: Text that David Leland put in brackets in his original LabanTalk posting is shown here surrounded by quotation marks and brackets.]
Oliver, as you point out with your turning the kinesphere upside down example, the terms "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" are ambiguous when the location of the viewer isn't specified: a pirouette seen from a bird's eye view (looking down) rotates one way, while seen from underneath the floor (looking up) rotates the other way. Similarly for limb rotations: if you describe a rotation of your right arm, as you say, ‘a right-arm-"pirouette,"’ as being clockwise (or right, or en dehors), you haven't specified enough information to determine the orientation of the rotation; the limb may be viewed from the proximal end looking toward the distal end (the dancer's [“LN: body”] perspective) or it may be viewed from the distal end toward the proximal end (the spectator's [“LN: space”] perspective), and each perspective will give a different name to the same motion.
Mathematically, the "space" [“manifold?”] that a movement is "imbedded" in effects the movement's description [“mapping?”].
Please forgive the following attempt at explanation, my familiarity with Labanotation is extremely limited, but as I understand it, Labanotation resolves the orientation ambiguity (exemplified above by the right arm pirouette) by utilizing a key signature symbol, which may take on two values: 1) the stance or space signature and 2) the body signature. The other ambiguity mentioned above is resolved by always assuming the bird's eye view rather than the underneath the floor looking up view (as far as I can tell).
The trick with your nice story of the dancer who can dance the same parts on his hands as on his feet is the idea of "same.” If he dances it on his hands, then this dance is explicitly distinct from the one he dances on his feet; more simply, it's not the same dance, it's different. By choosing what perspective to take, the internal or the external (does the rotation feel the same dancing it, or does it look the same watching it?), you make the decision which aspect of the dance you wish to make the "same," and you may indicate this decision in the notation by writing the appropriate key signature.
The book to read on this subject is Ann Hutchinson's Labanotation The System For Recording Movement. You can read it cover to cover in less than a week, it's quite readable, and as a math guy you should enjoy the chapter on the problems of analysis of rotations of the body. The chapter on revolutions of the body is just the thing for you, for example, you'll quickly see the equivalence between the somersault backward symbol from the body's perspective and the pirouette/pivot symbol from the space's perspective (for the dancer lying on his/her right side on the floor). Great fun, try it, It'll save you a lot of time trying to come up with your own form of movement analysis.
[In Posting 1 Oliver wrote] I THINK IT'S NECESSARY TO HAVE A MORE ABSTRACT/FORMAL WAY OF EXPLAINING HISTORICAL (AS WELL AS NEWER) DANCE STYLES, AND EXPLAINING, WHY THESES HIOSTORICAL FORMS OF DANCE HAVE BEEN DEVELOPPED.
[David responds] Maybe there are such "typography of dance"- books, but I don't know them. If there are such books or papers, please let me know.
Here again I'd point you to one of Ann's books: Dance Notation The Process of Recording Movement on Paper by Ann Hutchinson Guest (1984, Dance Horizons, New York). I'm thinking that the chapters on historical development would be of interest to you: the letter codes, floor plans, Feuillet notation, Saint-Leon, Stepanov,… Eshkol-Wachmann sounds like you've heard of before, with emphasis on rotational/conical/planal movement.
But if German is a better language for you to read in, I noticed at Sheila's wonderful Labanotation site, http://www.dance.ohio-state.edu/labanlab/morefolder/more.html, that they recommend An Introduction to Kinetography Laban, by Christine Eckerle (1997, Semperstrasse 24 D-45138 Essen, Germany) which may be published in German too.
Finally, I found Ann Kipling Brown's book, Dance notation for Beginners (London: Dance Books, 1984) to be a deliciously logical & straightforward introduction to Labanotation.
Posting 5, Oliver Bandel, October 21, 2002
[Responding to David Leland’s comments in Posting 4]
Isn't a dance using right-legs different from a dance using left legs? Even if both are called the same, because we can use the term "en dehors," we have a completely different dance, because we are using different limbs.
Why should a right-left change be called "no difference" and "the same dance,” but changing up-low is a completely different dance?
Here again, I think, that it is historical usage, but not clear, why changing right-left is "the same but mirrored" and changing upper-lower is "completely different.”
So, as you mentioned, it can be danced the same way, but looked from beyond instead of above the dancer, and it will look different. Yes. and that's the problem.
I think terms like "en dehors" are putting different dances together (right-left changes of limbs and clockwise/counterclockwise changes of rotation) in a more abstract way than using clockwise/counterclockwise, and there may be a more abstract term than these (to be created) for using an additional change of perspective from "birds eye" to "divers eye".
Posting 6, David Leland, October 21, 2002
[In Posting 5 Oliver Bandel wrote] WHY SHOULD A RIGHT-LEFT CHANGE BE CALLED "NO DIFFERENCE" AND "THE SAME DANCE,” BUT CHANGING UP-LOW IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DANCE?
[David Leland responds] First of two reasons: The exterior of the human body has bilateral symmetry, not 4-sided symmetry. The mirror image of the “left” side of the body closely matches the body’s “right” side. The mirror image of the “top” of the body does not closely match the body's lower portion. Shrugging the shoulders, for instance, does not have a well-defined corresponding (up-down mirroring) action of the pelvis/femurs; shrugging the “right” shoulder, however, readily corresponds (right-left mirroring) to shrugging the “left” shoulder.
Second of two reasons: The universe we inhabit apparently doesn't generally possess up-down symmetry. Movement in the direction that gravity compels us (down) requires the expenditure of less energy than movement in any other direction. Lowering one's center of gravity by half a body's height and staying there for a few seconds (for instance by moving from standing to lying down on the ground) doesn't take much energy, while raising one's center of gravity by half a body's height and staying there for a few seconds (for instance by moving from standing to hovering a meter above the ground) takes more energy than most dancers have at their disposal. Compare that with a translation of a dancer's body by half a body's length to the “right” (for instance by taking two steps to the right) which takes the same amount of energy as a translation of a dancer's body by half a body's length to the “left.” Barring the use of anti-gravity waves, if such exist, or dancing in a free-fall environment, up-down movements aren't reversible in the same way that left-right movements are, because of this lack of equivalence in energy-expenditure.
So if our bodies were shaped differently, say with the spherical symmetry of an orange, and we moved in an outer space where the forces of gravity were balanced (or symmetric) in all directions, then in a dance class the use of the phrase, "repeat from the beginning to the left" might be as common, and as meaningful, as the phrase, "repeat from the beginning to the up."
You've mentioned left-right symmetry and up-down symmetry, there's of course forward-back symmetry (often expressed in a ballet class by the term "reverse"), which are the simpler ones for the spatial dimensions, there's also the time forward-back symmetry. It can be fun using a computer program like LifeForms to run a sequence of movement with the flow of time reversed.
To generalize the process you've begun: the action of substituting one thing for another in a dance, and seeing what happens [“whether or not you refer to the result as ‘the same’”]; such can be a simple algorithm for generating variations of a dance for a theme & variation type structure. There's no need to restrict yourself to exchanging up for down, or the right arm for the right leg. You can substitute all occurrences of contractions for extensions; all sustained motions for sudden ones; bound for flowing, winks for nods, center stage for jungle gym, intentional for random, jazz shoes for pogo sticks; you get the idea.
Of course playing with symbol manipulation this way, made possible by the abstraction of the symbols, can be less than captivating from an audience's viewpoint. Why are we manipulating things this way, is it simply because our notation allows it, or are we communicating anything else by it? The use of symmetry is fine is small quantities, but it gets old quick.
What's curious to me is that we tend to focus on substitutions that are easily expressed in our language -- up for down in Labanotation is an obvious one, just change the coloring of a symbol from stripes to shaded and vice versa and voila, you've notated it -- and we avoid the substitutions that take complex descriptions to encapsulate, such as (forgive me) replacing all movements in the direction (5/6 pi radians left of center by two square roots of three times pi radians up by 10 degrees forward) with a return-to-place movement in a time duration of half the amount of applause we got at intermission. The implicit assumption is that if you can express a concept simply in a notation system (or language) then it will be similarly simple to dance, so why don't we do it that way? The answer is that the implicit assumption is generally false; e.g., an obvious antonym in one language may not translate neatly into another. How many of us have sufficient technique to pirouette, en dedans or otherwise, on our right arm? Just the idea of a releve is making my knuckles sore.
Posting 7, Oliver Bandel, November 21, 2002
[In posting 6 David Leland wrote] WHY SHOULD A RIGHT-LEFT CHANGE BE CALLED "NO DIFFERENCE" AND "THE SAME DANCE," BUT CHANGING UP-LOW IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DANCE? FIRST OF TWO REASONS: THE EXTERIOR OF THE HUMAN BODY HAS BILATERAL SYMMETRY, NOT 4-SIDED SYMMETRY....
SECOND OF TWO REASONS: THE UNIVERSE WE INHABIT APPARENTLY DOESN'T GENERALLY POSSESS UP-DOWN SYMMETRY. MOVEMENT IN THE DIRECTION THAT GRAVITY COMPELS US....
SO IF OUR BODIES WERE SHAPED DIFFERENTLY, SAY WITH THE SPHERICAL SYMMETRY OF AN ORANGE, AND WE MOVED IN AN OUTERSPACE WHERE THE FORCES OF GRAVITY WERE BALANCED (OR SYMMETRIC) IN ALL DIRECTIONS, THEN IN A DANCE CLASS THE USE OF THE PHRASE, "REPEAT FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE LEFT" MIGHT BE AS COMMON, AND AS MEANINGFUL, AS THE PHRASE, "REPEAT FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE UP."
[Oliver Bandel responds] Because of knowing what is up and what is down, even in no-gravity space there would be this difference.
Some psychologists have done experiments with special eyeglasses, which turn up-side down in your view. The first days, when you have these glasses on, you will have many problems... :).
But then, after a certain time has gone, you can do anything like before.... but if you put the glasses down, you get into trouble again.
[In posting 6 David Leland wrote] OF COURSE PLAYING WITH SYMBOL MANIPULATION THIS WAY, MADE POSSIBLE BY THE ABSTRACTION OF THE SYMBOLS,…
[Oliver Bandel responds] Well, ok. Your examples explaining that asymmetry are interesting.
What I'm looking for is, how LN reflects this point.
The directional symbols are an introduction to play around with them.
How is human body's asymmetry reflected in LN?
It seems …[that is how] the notation is created. It's a notation, written with symmetrical philosophy in mind.
As far as I know, Laban has looked for higher order symmetries (and "beauty") in dance (if not, correct me, please).
So, if you do your three-dimensional rings, how can it be described to be perfectly symmetrical?
Maybe in n-th order space? Or with some mathematical tricks?
And I think this is why the notation is how it is. It doesn't directly reflect the asymmetries.
And I felt invited by this...