Thursday, March 25, 2010

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, January 12, 2010

Submitted by Charlotte Wile - March 25, 2010

Following are minutes for the Open Theory Meeting held at the Dance Notation Bureau, January 12, 2010.

Present: Sandra Aberkalns, Ray Cook, Oona Haaranen, Alice Helpern, (attended the end of the meeting), Mira Kim, Mei-Chen Lu, Rose Anne Thom, Lynne Weber, and Charlotte Wile

1)  The Role of Stagers, Reconstructors, and Notators
2)  “Holding and Canceling Supports” Bulletin Board posting
3)  Jimmyle Listenbee’s addendum for the October 20, 2009 minutes

1.2     This topic was prompted by conversations that notators in France had concerning professional standards. [See the upcoming report, “Notator, Reconstructor, Who Are We? The Process of Defining Professional Standards in France”, by Marion Bastien and Pascale GuĂ©non,  ICKL Proceedings, 2009 Bangkok conference.]

1.3     We all agreed that notating and reconstructing are each specialized jobs that require different skills.

1.4     First we discussed the skills needed to be a notator.

1.5    Rose Anne pointed out that the DNB has a hierarchy of training and requirements that lead to certification as a notator.

1.6    Sandra said that other institutions, such as Laban in England and Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris, have standards that may be different from the DNB. The training may not be as rigorous as it is at the DNB.

1.7    Oona: We would need to know what the requirements are at other institutions before we compare them to the DNB’s requirements.

1.8    Ray: There is a difference between being a “notator” and a “professional notator.” Just being able to jot down bits of notation does not mean that one has reached the level of professional notator. A professional notator must be able to create a full score that meets the DNB’s criteria for certification.

1.9    Sandra: There are certain people in the world who have been paid for writing full scores that do not meet those criteria. These people call themselves professional notators.

1.10    Charlotte: What are the DNB’s standards?  For example, does the certification process involve an in depth knowledge of the grammatical rules and terminology set forth by the Labanotation texts and ICKL? Does the professional notator candidate need to demonstrate that they can write a complicated dance that has multiple dancers? Do they need to be able to pass a difficult test?

1.11    Mei: The DNB requirements for certification are on its web site.

1.12    Next we discussed the role of a reconstructor vs. a stager.

1.13    Sandra:  A reconstructor is someone who reproduces a dance where there is no full documentation. There may be oral histories, textual descriptions, partial films, photos. The reconstructor fills in the gaps in what is known about the dance from bits and pieces. A stager reproduces the dance from a score.

1.14    Charlotte: The stager of a dance is like to a conductor who uses a music score.

1.15    Rose Anne: The term “stager” can also be used for someone like a ballet mistress who recreates a dance from memory.

1.16    Mei pointed out that in the past the DNB staff used the term “reconstructors” because it was felt that they use another media (a score), as the source of the dance. Now, however, the DNB uses the term “stager.”

1.17    Charlotte: Are the skills, mindsets, experiences, or training needed to be a reconstructor different from those needed by a stager?

1.18    Ray:  One difference is that a notator can write, while a stager can read.

1.19    Sandra: Some people are able to do both.

1.20    Charlotte: But doesn’t a notator also need to be able to read?

1.21    Rose Anne. How many people from the Bureau have been exclusively stagers? Normally DNB people do both staging and notating.

1.22    Ray: When the stager directs a dance, he should not be focused on the symbols in the score.

1.23    Sandra: Stagers and notators need different people and management skills. For instance, a stager needs to be able to conduct rehearsals, pick casts, learn huge chunks of movement, teach the movement, and talk to the conductor and production crew. Not all notators have these skills. However, writing is the pinnacle job.

1.24    Rose Ann. The job of the stager is more than just to teach the dance. The stager is like a director.

1.25    Sandra: However, sometimes the stager just sets the dance, and does not coach or do any of the other jobs of a director. Then another person comes in to coach and refine the performance. Just setting the dance for another person to coach requires its own set of skills.

1.26    Ray: Does this person have another name?

1.27    Rose Anne: They are like the “rehearsal mistress.”

1.28    Sandra: There are different levels of staging, ranging from the rehearsal mistress who sets the dance, to a person who completely directs it.

1.29    The issue of interpretation was discussed. Charlotte wondered how much freedom a stager should have in interpreting a score. Should the stager have the same kind of freedom some conductors take in interpreting music? Or does it depend on which score is being staged?

1.30    Ray: It depends upon whether the choreographer is still alive.

1.31    Lynne: Or copyright issues may be involved.

1.32    Oona said she would like to know how other institutions feel about these questions.  This might be useful when we design notator training courses for various venues.

1.33    Charlotte: In much of the Bureau’s training courses, writing has been emphasized. Perhaps reading should be given more importance.

1.34    This led to a discussion of the three “Stage to Page” workshops Oona recently gave to members of the New York Theater Company.  The dancers learned to read two sections of Ann Hutchinson Guest’s notation for Tudor’s Soiree Musicale. The focus was on moving, rather than on theory. The workshops were extremely successful. Most of the 10 dancers had no notation background, but they were able to read in a very short time. The dancers were very inspired and want to continue this work.

1.35    Lynne said several dance companies are interested in taking the workshop, which is being offered at no cost.  She said this approach to notation answer critics who say Labanotation is arcane and takes too long to learn.

1.36    Rose Anne told about an experience she had with her students learning a dance from Agon. The students were able to recognize subtle differences in two video performances of the dance because they had read Ann Hutchinson Guest’s score of it.

1.37    The discussion returned to the role of a notator. Should a notator’s sore ever be edited or changed?

1.38    Ray: Only the notator should have the power to change his score.

1.39    Sandra: But what if the notator is dead and the score needs revision?

1.40    Ray: The original score should always be left as it is. Any changes should be given elsewhere, perhaps as an appendix.

1.41    Mei asked if the revisions should always be included with the original score.  At what point should changes be considered so prominent that they should be included in a separate, revised score?

1.42    Sandra: There are presently new versions of certain scores that have been created. The terminology used to identify the original and the new versions has not been standardized. The DNB is working on its own guidelines and terminology that will let the reader know exactly what kind of revisions have been made. For instance, the meaning of words like “revision,” “edition,” and “addition” need to be clarified.

1.43    The issue of translating from one notation system to anther was also discussed, e.g., from Benesh to Labanotation.

1.44    Sandra felt doing such translations is problematic because very few people know more than one system well enough to do this accurately. Also, symbols in one system may not translate well into another system. For instance, Benesh does not have the nuances that are available in Labanotation.

1.45    Lynne said that there are some people with enough skill to translate from one system into another, as Ann Hutchinson Guest did as in her score for Nijinsky’s Faun.

1.46    Charlotte agreed that a dance may be different in the different systems. “The medium is the message.” However, having a translation of Faun into Labanotation at least gives the majority of people who only know Labanotation the opportunity to know Nijinsky’s work.  [The same is true for translating books from one language into another].

1.47    Sandra said that a person reading a Benesh score that was badly translated from Labanotation might think that there is something wrong with Labanotation.

1.48    Ray: An experiment in which there are two staging of the dance, one from the Benesh and one from the Labanotation, would show if the translation worked.

1.49    Addendum from Charlotte:  For more on this topic see the Theory Bulletin Board posting “Terms,” submitted by Nancy Allison et al., June 19, 2007.


2.2     This topic was prompted by the Theory Bulletin Board discussions “Holding and Cancelling Supports,” and “Holding and Cancelling Supports Continued,” Submitted by Lu et al., November 9, 2009 (Retention and Cancellation Thread).

2.3    Everyone agreed with the rule Ann Hutchinson Guest gave in e-mail #5 in the posting:

2.4             “A new support takes all the weight, unless indicated otherwise. See page 49 in the 1977 LN text, or page 121 in the 2005 edition. This is true also for a shift of weight onto one foot from a previous situation with weight on both feet.

2.5            Note: we are not talking here about walking on all fours, acrobatics, floor work, etc. Refer to these volumes of Advanced Labanotation to find the specific rules that need to be applied in less usual circumstances.”
2.6     Charlotte felt that some of the confusion that ensued before Ann gave her rule came from uncertainty about terms that were used in the posting. For instance, it is possible that people are giving different meanings to the term “weight shift.”  Does a “weight shift” always involve a full weight transference, or can it also be used to describe a partial weight transference?  Likewise, do we all agree on the meaning of the word “step”?

2.7     Rose Anne said the established meaning of all those terms is clear.

2.8     Charlotte disagreed. She said that in talking to various notators she has found that people do not always define them in the same way. As an example, Charlotte asked how people in this group would define the word step.

2.9     Rose Anne: It is a transference of weight onto one foot.

2.10     Ray: You can’t just say a transference of weight, because that would include a partial weight transference. In giving the definition you also need to be clear what it isn’t. All possibilities need to be considered.  In the definition you need to say that a step is a complete transference of weight.

2.11     Charlotte: Is example 1a a step?
2.12    Rose Anne said it is not a step because it has a caret. The caret tells you that you do not release your foot, so you are doing a shift of weight, not a step.

2.13    Charlotte said the caret by itself does not tell us that the movement is a shift of weight rather than a step. Rather, according to the definition Ray gave, 1a is not a step because it involves a partial shift of weight.  [Addendum from Charlotte:  See the example 1p in Par. 2.81 below. That example also has a caret that says “do not release the foot.” However, in that careted example the movement is a step, not a shift of weight. Why? Because the movement involves a full transference of weight.]

2.14    Sandra: The meaning of the terms is well established. There is no need for this discussion.

2.15    Charlotte disagreed. She reiterated that the BB exchange (Par. 2.2 above) showed that even notation experts may not be in agreement about the meaning of the terms. Consequently they had difficulty communicating. As individuals we may say to ourselves, “I have the definition of what a step is,” and then assume that everyone else has that same definition. However, then, as has happened many times at these meetings, we are surprised to discover that we are not all in agreement.

2.16    Sandra said she does not feel that the words used to describe the movement are important. Everyone is in agreement with the meaning of the symbols, and that is what matters. Dance isn’t about words, it’s about movement.

2.17    Ray strongly disagreed. He said that when you notate you need to be able to first put the movement into words in order to capture it well in symbols.

2.18    Sandra said that she never puts the movement into words first. She always translates directly from the movement to symbols.

2.19    Lynne agreed with Sandra and gave an analogy with learning to speak a language.  When a person who speaks English is learning to speak French, at first he may translate concepts into English and then translate them into French. But at a certain point he is able to translate the concepts directly into French.

2.20    Rose Anne said she tells her students that at a certain point in their studies, maybe in Intermediate notation, they will be able to stop thinking and translate the movement directly into symbols. The LN language becomes the language you are operating in.

2.21    Ray said words can be important when movement examples are not available.  For example, someone might by trying to learn notation by reading about it in a book. When verbal explanations in LN texts are unclear or contradictory, it can be extremely confusing.

2.22    Oona: Some people learn fastest by listening to the words that are used to describe the movement.

2.23    Charlotte said again the BB posting (Par. 2.2. above) exemplified how problematic it can be when terms are given different meanings.

2.24    Mira said that the problem arose when Lucy used the word “step.” People where not sure if she meant a partial or a full transference of weight. This then led to confusion in the discussion.

2.25    Oona said that the committee that met to discuss the Elementary exam found that terms like “shift of weight” often were confusing for students.

2.26    Charlotte: In considering the definition of the terms, we should take into account how they are used in everyday parlance. Terms in LN do not always have the same meaning in everyday language.

2.27    Charlotte brought up an idea Ray had discussed with her. The word “shift” has different meanings in LN. When it is used with supports, i.e., a “shift of weight,” it refers to weight transference. However, in a shift of a body area it is given a very different meaning. There it denotes movement in which the two ends of the given body portion are displaced an equal amount.

2.28    Sandra: The words are not confusing because they are always used in context.

2.29    Charlotte:  The words “step” and “shift” have different connotations within LN, as well as in everyday language. One way to address this issue is to avoid those words in explaining notation rules. Instead, the rules could use terms that more accurately describe what happens in the movement. For example, for supports one could say there is a partial weight transference or a full weight transference.  These two terms would cover all the possible variations and would make one know clearly what the movement is about.

2.30    Sandra: Does that mean we could never use words like stepping and walking?

2.31    Ray: No! Words like stepping and walking could still be used. It just would mean that the terms “full weight transference” and “partial weight transference” would be used to explain the meaning of symbols.

2.32     Rose Anne and Sandra continued to feel that the meaning of the terms “step” and “weight shift” are understood by everyone and do not need further clarification.

2.33    Ray: If that were true, then the discussion in the BB posting would never have taken place. Everybody would have understood from the beginning what Lucy meant when she used those words.

2.34    Lynne: The English language is what is causing the problem.

2.35    Charlotte: The issue is not that one set of words is necessarily better than another. What is important is that we need to be in agreement about the meaning of whatever words we use. If one person says a step is one thing, and another is giving the term another meaning, and they aren’t even aware that they are using the word differently, then they will not be able to communicate.

2.36    Lynne: The meaning of words change and evolve over time. Therefore, we cannot give them a specific meaning.

2.37    Charlotte argued that, to the extent that it is possible, we need to have a standardized meaning for notation terms. For example, in everyday language the word “diagonal” just means an oblique angle.  Consider a position in which one arm is side high and the other arm is side low. In some disciplines, such as Bartenieff Fundamentals, this is called a “diagonal” position. [See Irmgard Bartenieff and Dori Lewis, Body Movement: Coping with the Environment, page 255.]  However, as we know, that would not be considered a diagonal position in LN. We have given the word diagonal a different meaning and we all agree on that meaning.  Without that standardized meaning in the system there would be great confusion. 

2.38    Lynne agreed that to the extent that we can, it is helpful to give our terms a clear meaning, even if it is not possible to pin everything down exactly.

2.39    Charlotte agreed that it is not possible to pin down every term exactly, e.g., terms for Effort and dynamics are very difficult to define.

2.40    Ray said that another word in LN that creates problems is “tilt.” In Guest, Labanotation, it says that a tilt means you go “away from the vertical.” In other words, if the torso begins place high, and then it goes forward high, that is a tilt. However, if the torso begins forward middle and then goes forward high or place high, would that be considered a tilt?

2.41    Charlotte: In LN the meaning of the word “tilt” can be understood in contrast to the word “shift.” In a tilt of a body area, one end of the body area is displaced more than the other end. This is indicted with the appropriate body part pre-sign followed by a basic direction sign, as in 1b. In a shift, both ends are displaced equally. This is indicated with the appropriate pre-sign followed by a direction sign that contains an equal sign (1c). According to this analysis, a body area that begins forward and then goes forward high is a tilt. This seems awkward because in everyday language we don’t use the word tilt in that way.
2.42    Lynne used the image of a cow lowering its head to see how in everyday language one might use the word tilt. Everyone laughed when Ray jokingly said the answer to that is, “Moo.”

2.43    Charlotte: Here again, perhaps we could find a better term for what we now call “tilt”. For instance, maybe such movements might be referred to as movements with unequal displacement. “Shifts” of the body parts could then be referred to as movements with equal displacement.

2.44    Some people in the group did not feel that Ex. 1d should be called a tilt.
2.45    Sandra looked the word tilt up in the dictionary, but the definitions there did not seem to help the discussion.

2.46    As in the discussion of the words “step” and “shift,” Sandra and Rose Anne felt there was no problem with the word tilt because we are all in agreement about the meaning of the symbols. 

2.47    Charlotte felt that calling 1b a tilt, but saying that 1d is not a tilt, is confusing. We analyze them in the same way. They are both movements of a body area in which one end is displaced more that another. We indicate them in the same way, with a pre-sign followed by a direction sign. Therefore, it would be clearer in our explanation of the symbols if we use a term that fits both movements.

2.48    Ray: In Guest, Labanotation, 4th edition, page 228, it says, “Tilting, also called inclining or ‘taking a direction’, means movement of a part of the body away from its normal position into another direction.”

2.49    Sandra repeated that even if we take umbrage with the words in the text, that does not cause problems with our understanding the notation.  Any new terms that one would come up with would also cause confusion.

2.50    Rose Anne said that she has never had a problem when she uses the word tilt to teach notation.

2.51    Charlotte felt that may be true in certain situations, but not in others. Words invoke certain movement ideas.  For example, she has found in teaching children notation or teaching notation at LIMS, a word like “tilt” can cause confusion because it connotes something different in everyday language.

2.52    Sandra said that the teacher in those situations then has the responsibility to teach the meaning that the word has in LN. Students need to learn the meaning of the words in the context in which they are being used.

2.53    Charlotte: In teaching the difference between 1b and 1c I might in passing use the vernaculars “tilt” and “shift.” However, to explain the movements I would emphasize the fundamental difference between them:  there is unequal displacement in one and equal displacement in the other. This gets to the heart of the salient difference between those two categories of movement. 

2.54    Rose Anne: In a tilt of the torso you assume that the body is going off the vertical away from normal.

2.55    Charlotte: If my arm is place high, is that normal? No. So in that case I am giving a different meaning to the word tilt from what you are saying it means in a tilt of the torso.

2.56    Sandra: The arm doesn’t “tilt.”

2.57     [Addendum from Charlotte: In Guest, Labanotation, 4th ed., page 228, it says, “Although the term tilting is not used for arms, gestures of the whole arm in one piece that take a new direction, are comparable to tilts in that they employ the some basic kind of action.”]

2.58    Rose Anne: The rules and terms for actions of different body parts should be different. The body parts operate differently in our physicality.

2.59    Sandra: The torso cannot do the same movements as limbs, so they require different terms.

2.60    Charlotte held that the analysis and the way we indicate 1e and 1f are the same. Wouldn’t it be clearer to use the same terms in describing that analysis?

2.61    Charlotte suggested that categorizing all body portions going in a direction as moving with either equal or unequal displacement can open up new ways of perceiving and indicating movement. For instance, we have a way of indicating that a body area moves with equal displacement (which in the texts is called a shift, as in 1c above). Why can’t that analysis be applied to limbs or parts of a limb? For example, in this movement [Charlotte demonstrated movement that is depicted here in drawings 1g and 1h] the ends of the lower arm moves with equal displacement. [This could be indicated as in 1i and 1j.] 

2.62    Sandra emphatically said no to this idea. As she sees it, the lower arm cannot shift. The arm cannot move independently from the rest of the arm, so it cannot shift. In contrast, the head can shift independently from the rest of the body.

2.63    Ray and Charlotte: If the definition of a shift of a body area is that both ends of the part move an equal amount, then that analysis can be applied to limb parts [as in 1g-1j]. The analysis underlying the two movements is the same.

2.64    Rose Anne returned to the term “tilt.” The definition of a tilt of the head is that the free end moves away from the fixed end.

2.65    Ray: That is just one example of the movement category we are discussing. However if you look at all the movements which fit into the definition we are discussing, then all have the same analysis: a movement in which the free end moves more than the fixed end.

2.66    Sandra: Does Ann give notation examples in the text for these other movements?

2.67    Ray: No. And that is part of the problem.

2.68    Sandra: Then how do you know that Ann is not just using different terms for the same concept.

2.69    Ray: She is. She gives three different names for the same concept, the same analysis. The problem is that those different names conjure up different images, which makes one think that they represent different concepts.

2.70    Sandra: Maybe the solution is to eliminate definitions rather than changing the terminology.

2.71    Charlotte returned to the idea of categorizing direction indications into two categories: those that represent movements with equal displacement and those that represent movements with unequal displacement.  She has found that thinking about direction in this way can open up new ways to perceive movement. The idea of moving limbs or limb parts as a block [as in 1g,h] is just one example. Another is equal displacement for the whole body, as in the whole body going forward in ice skating. In other words, the body-as-a-whole moves with the top of the head and the base of the body moving the same amount.

2.72    Sandra continued to feel that a movements such as 1g and 1h are completely different from a head shift. In her analysis, the lower arm is not moving. Rather, the action is happening in the upper arm, and this causes the lower arm to change is position.

2.73    Charlotte: Yes, that is one way to perceive and write the movement. But another way to think about the movement is to focus on the movement of the lower arm moving as a piece in space, rather than thinking of it as the result of the movement of the upper arm.  There are many ways that the movement can be written.  The different methods or recording the movement each express a different intent.

2.74    Sandra said we already have a ways to write the movements, e.g., 1k. The method of writing that Charlotte is proposing is not needed. [1k is a photo of what Sandra drew at the meeting.]

2.75    Charlotte said Sandra’s examples show only some ways to indicate the movement.  The focus in Sandra’s examples is on moving the upper arm with the lower arm following.  However, they do not express the intent of moving the lower arm as a piece.  As an analogy, the head movement in 1l and 1m may produce the same movement, but the intent is different. If we need these two ways of indicating these two intents for the head, why not have both intents for limbs, [e.g. 1n, 1o]? 
2.76    Sandra said that what Charlotte is proposing is interesting in theory, but in the real word it has no practical use. Choreographers never talk about the lower arm moving with the intent Charlotte is describing.

2.77    Charlotte said that if she were teaching children to do the movement in 1g, she might say move your lower arm “up and down”.  This gives them a very different idea of how to think of the movement than if she said “move your elbow in a path,” or move your upper arm and carry your lower arm with it.”  As another example, in William Forsythe’s  DVD “Improvisation Technologies”  he sometimes focuses on having limb parts go somewhere as a block. 

2.78    Charlotte: Exploring new ways of capturing intent expands our perception of movement. For example, the development of design drawing opened up new ways of seeing and experiencing movement.

2.79    Ray: We are going into new areas that we don’t have answers for. We should not say that a new idea isn’t needed because no one has done it in the past. We need to keep our minds open. Maybe we will discover the idea doesn’t work. But we need to at least consider it. When one person has a need for the new symbols or terms, then that should be explored. Often then other people may pick up on that idea and also find it useful. If we do not feel free to present and explore these new ideas, we may miss out on something. That is how the whole system develops.

2.80    Sandra continued to feel that Charlotte’s proposal is not a good idea. She said Charlotte’s ideas will create conflicts in the system because they will change the established ways of perceiving and writing. The idea of moving the limb [as in 1g and 1h] is completely different from shifting a body area. The limb movement needs to have a completely new terminology and indications.

2.81    Addendum:  Mei, Mira, and Charlotte discussed the terms “step” and “weight shift” further after the meeting. They realized that they indeed did have different definitions of the terms “step” and “weight shift.” (See Par. 2.11-2.15 above). For instance, at first Mei and Mira said that 1p is a weight shift, and 1q is a step. Charlotte said that both movements are steps. Must the gesturing leg release first release from the ground in order for the movement to be considered a step?  After further discussion, all three decided that that this was not a consideration.  They all agreed that “step” and “weight transference” could be defined as follows:
2.82    A step is a full weight transference of weight from one foot to the other.  In other words, the movement must begin with all the weight on one foot, and end with all the weight on the other foot. Using this definition, both 1p and 1q are steps. Whether or not the touching gesturing leg in 1p releases before the weight transference is not relevant.

2.83    In a weight shift there is only a partial transference of weight. For instance, since the weight in 1r begins with weight on the right foot as well as the left foot, the movement to the right foot is only a partial transference of weight. Therefore, this movement should be considered a weight shift.

2.84    A movement such as 1s actually consists of a partial weight transference followed by a full weight transference.  However, the partial weight transference is not written, and the movement taken as a whole is called a step.

3.2    Jimmyle Listenbee e-mailed an addendum concerning Tina Curran and Susan Gingrasso's ICKL Motif Fellows report in the October 20, 2009 minutes.  Her response has been posted on the Theory Bulletin Board in the “Comments” at the end of the minutes