Monday, November 15, 2010

“The Dance Notation Bureau Costume Design Collection” by Mei-Chen Lu

“The Dance Notation Bureau Costume Design Collection” by Mei-Chen Lu
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - November 15, 2010

Mei-Chen Lu, the Dance Notation Bureau’s Director of Library Services, has published an excellent article, “The Dance Notation Bureau Costume Design Collection,” in Documenting: Costume Design, edited by Nancy E. Friedland, Performing Arts Resources, Vol. 27. New York: Theatre Library Association, 2010, pp. 111-116.

Little did people know that DNB has such a unique collection of dance costume information and resources. We hope you will find this article about the history of dance notation and the breadth of materials in its collections informative.

Please keep in mind that this article is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of the Theatre Library Association.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, August 4, 2010

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, August 4, 2010
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - November 10, 2010

Following are minutes for the Open Theory Meeting held at the Dance Notation Bureau, August 4, 2010. The minutes were written by Charlotte Wile.

Present: Ray Cook, Caity Gwin, Mira Kim, Mei-Chen Lu, Lynne Weber, Charlotte Wile.

1.1    TOPIC: Comments on the April 5, 2010 Meeting

1.2    There were two responses to the April 5, 2010 minutes:
1.3    The group discussed items in Ann’s paper first.

1.4    On page 1 Ann says:
“In marking off the vertical units of time, it is not the horizontal bar line or the ‘tick’ marks that show the beat, the count of 1, 2, 3, etc.  These signs are dividers, the moment of the beat comes just after the bar line or tick mark.  A small amount of space on the page has to exist to represent that moment, that time unit, visually.  (See Your Move, 2008 page 275.) Thus, for example, the foot hook or end of a contact bow needs to be placed in this small area, Ex. 1a and 1b.  This fact, long agreed upon, has been missing from the Labanotation textbooks.  My apologies.”
    (Note: Examples in Ann's paper are labeled here as AHG)

1.5    The group had questions about this idea.

1.6    Mira: We don’t teach that or write that way, but I think I understand what Ann means. When we write an accent sign we put it a little bit above the line. (E1a) 

1.7    Charlotte: That makes sense for an accent sign or foot hooks. They of necessity need to be drawn above the line so they will be visible and not blend in with the bar line. But what about direction signs? Should they also be written after the tick or bar line? For instance, in notation where the direction sign for a support is drawn touching the tic mark or bar line, does the timing of the support begin after the beginning of the support sign?

1.8    Mei: In Labanotation the supports are written touching the tic marks and bar lines.

1.9    Ray: Having the timing for the foot hook begin after the tic mark and having the timing of the direction sign (when it is written on the tic mark) begin at the beginning of the direction sign is a contradiction in symbols.

1.10   Charlotte: Aren’t measure and beat numbers written in line with tic marks and bar lines? However, going by Ann’s statement, shouldn’t they be drawn above the bar line or tic mark? (As in Ex. AHG 1a above.)

1.11    Mira: What about the consecutive touches. Do they also need to be drawn slightly above the tic? (Ex. AHG1a)

1.12    Caity: I understand this more as a formatting question than as a timing question. Perhaps Ann is saying that the tic marks are used to show a certain span of time. The physical line itself is devoid of timing. In LabanWriter, symbols are written one pixel above that line.

1.13    Mira: In other words, the tic or bar line doesn’t show the end or beginning of the unit of time. It just divides the span of time into units.

1.14    A comparison was made to music. The bar lines divide the music into units. The notes depict the timing.

1.15   There was disagreement about whether the notes or bar lines in music denote where the beat occurs.

1.16    Charlotte said she had always thought that the L/N tic mark and bar lines correspond with the beat of music. Ann seems to be saying that the music beat comes slightly after the tic or bar line.

1.17    Ray: Before there was a computer you always had to put a hairline space between symbols.

1.18   Charlotte asked if the hairline came before or after the beat. She assumed that it would come before the next symbol so that the bottom of that next symbol would correspond with the beat.

1.19    Mira: In LabanWriter there is a very slight space after the tic or bar line, as in Ann’s statement.

1.20    Charlotte: In Labanotation, 4th ed., page 32 it says, “… the center time line is marked off at regular intervals by small ticks, each tic marking the beginning of a new beat. The space between the ticks represents the duration of the beat.”  So here Ann is saying that the tic does denote the beginning of the beat.

1.21    Charlotte wondered about Ann’s statement that the timing comes after the tic has been “long agreed upon.” (See paragraph 1.4 above). If this is just a verbal agreement that some experts know about and use in their scores, but that contradicts what is written in the texts, this could be very confusing for future readers of scores. This once again brings forth questions about standardization and what it means.

1.22    Mira said that putting the hairline space is in fact the way we write, even if that hasn’t been spelled out in the texts.

1.23    Mei: Having the beat come after the tic or bar line makes the score much more difficult to read.

1.24    Charlotte: What is wrong with having the tic indicate the beat?

1.25    Mira said the tic can indicate the timing of the beat. However, the convention is to write the symbols with a slight space between them, or in the case of foot hooks, above the tic or bar line so they are visible (e.g., not drawn on top of the bar line).

1.26    Mira reiterated that she could see the logic in Ann’s statement.

1.27    The group finished this topic still feeling confused about Ann’s statement and the issues it raised. They decided to move on to the next topic in Ann’s paper: “The Meaning of a Step Symbol.”

1.28    Lynne arrived at this point in the meeting.

1.29    In Ann’s paper (page 1) she says,
“Let us go over again what the symbol of 3a represents.  The base of the direction symbol represents (and must represent) the moment the foot contacts the floor, 3b.  This is true whatever the part of foot it might be.  For the tap dancer, that is the moment the tap sound is heard, i.e. on the beat.” 
1.30    Ray: If the support direction symbol touches the tick mark or measure line, then this statement disagrees what Ann wrote earlier in her the paper (paragraph 1.4 above). In that case the timing would begin slightly after the beginning of the symbol.

1.31    Charlotte: In order to make Ann’s statements agree, you need to draw the support symbol slightly above the tick mark or bar line if you want the foot contact to occur on the beat. However, what if you want the contact to come after the beat? Then you need to write the tic, have a slight space above that, i.e., where the beat occurs, and then put the beginning of the direction symbol above that.

1.32    The group discussed the timing of Ann’s Ex. 3c-3g.
1.33    On page 1 in her paper Ann says, “Before a travelling step takes place, the moving leg needs to advance in the appropriate direction in preparation for taking weight; at the same time the center of gravity (CofG) moves beyond centered balance toward the new support.  In the notation of 3c, the arrow shows where this is understood to take place.”

1.34    The group agreed that this would be true in continuous stepping. However, in movement from a stationary position, as in 3c, does the notation specify that gesturing and center of gravity movement at the same time? Couldn’t the leg gesture happen before the center of gravity movement?

1.35    Ann’s 3d and-3e were compared.

1.36    Lynne said she would not do 3d and 3e the same way. For example, in reading 3d she would emphasize the center of gravity. Ray said the performance of 3d and 3e would depend upon how high the gesture leg is from the floor. If the gesture leg is high then the center of weight would have to move before the foot touches the floor in the step. However, if the gesture leg is close to the ground you do not need to shift the weight before the gesture becomes a support. (Video #1 - Ray and Lynne demonstrate.)

Note: Here and elsewhere, for the best viewing of a video, click the start arrow on the screen twice so you can view it in YouTube.

1.37    Caity said she did not think that Ann was comparing the examples. Rather she was just showing 3c-3f as components of what she gets to in 3g.

1.38    The group discussed zed carets, e.g., as in Ann’s 3g.

1.39    Lynne felt there are contradictory messages in 3g: 1) the center of gravity moving forward, and 2) the zed caret which limits the step to where you were.

1.40    Ray: Originally the zed caret meant there is an intention of connecting the gesture with the step. However, whenever you asked someone to demonstrate it, the reader would always do something extra physically with their whole body to show the gesture and step belonged together.  The zed caret is not needed. Without it there is automatically a connection between the gesture and the step. If you want something extra to happen in the body, like a breath, then you write the zed caret. (Video #2 – Mei with her back to the camera, Ray demonstrating, Lynne and Charlotte sitting.)

1.41    Mei: The distance of the step is affected by the use of the zed caret. Stepping on the same spot will make the step smaller. If no zed caret is used, then the step may or may not be on the same spot.

1.42    Charlotte felt there could be confusion if the zed caret has two different meanings: 1) step on the same place, and 2) connect the gesture and the step. Mira said she recalled this being discussed at a previous meeting.

1.43    [Addendum from Charlotte: Mira may be referring to the April 20, 2008 meeting.]

1.44    Ray: Assume the zed caret means there is a connection or phrasing between the gesture and the step. Does that mean that when there is no zed caret, there is not a connection?

1.45    Charlotte: Without the zed caret, you may or may not have such phrasing. Likewise, if the zed caret means step on the same spot, when it is not written the step may or may not be on the same spot.

1.46    Mira said she remembered Sandra [Aberkalns] saying notators needed a way to show that certain movements are linked. That was how the linking idea for the zed caret began. Also, the regular caret is used to show stepping on the same spot when the gesture foot is touching the floor. What we are talking about is when the gesture leg is in the air.

1.47    The discussion changed to the issue of when weight is centered in a step.

1.48    Everyone agreed with Ann’s statement in her paper concerning a step that does not continue to a new step. On page 2 she says, “At the end of a concluding step, when no further transference of weight occurs, the center of weight is understood to be over the new support at the end of the symbol, the last ‘time unit’...”

1.49    However, the group questioned Ann’s statement about consecutive steps (page 2):
“But when consecutive steps occur, the center of weight will be moving into the direction of the next step.  Thus the moment of the CofG being centered must occur before its displacement into the direction of the next step, as shown in 4b.  Exactly where this point of balance occurs will depend on: a) the speed and b) the style of the movement.  Because it is a passing event, it has not seemed important, to date, to pin it down precisely.  However, as indicated in 4b, we have the means to be precise.  Probably a larger basic unit for each beat (count) would be needed."
1.50   Ann's statement continues:
"In the case of fast, swaying steps, the weight may never be centered.  Ex. AHG 5a shows a typical example; there is not time to produce full transferences of weight.  By throwing the torso weight from side to side, as in 5b, a moment of being centered can be achieved.”
1.51    Charlotte: Is there an assumed timing for when the centering occurs? At the April 5 meeting everyone seemed to think there is one, although there was some discussion about whether it occurs 1/2 way into the support sign or 1/3 way into the support sign. In contrast, in her paper Ann is saying that is not so. She says the point of balance is not assumed; it depends upon the context of the movement.

1.52    Lynne:  Context is important. You can’t just automatically assume when the centering will occur. Also, when you are doing a series of steps, the center of gravity never actually gets to the stable point.

1.53    Everyone agreed that context does influence what happens in the step, and it would be better for there not to be a rule that says what the timing is by default. In other words, unless stated otherwise, the timing of centering would be open to interpretation.

1.54    However, everyone in the group said they had been taught that there is a standardized timing for when centering occurs.

1.55    Charlotte pointed out that the texts do not say that timing is open. Rather, examples of when the timing occurs are given (Labanotation, 4th edition, page 127; Elementary Labanotation, by Muriel Topaz, 1996, page 32). Perhaps this leads the reader to think that there is a standardized timing.

1.56    Lynne: When you teach a ballet class to little kids, you tell them certain things. When you go back as an advanced student or professional dancer, and you revisit the exact same movement, you realize those things you told the little kids are simplifications of all that is going on. I don’t think there is a problem with telling people that centering is 1/2 way through the step. It gives them a concept, even if it isn’t absolutely true in all circumstances. However, when you get into more advanced work you need a better understanding of the details of movement. For example, computer scientists who are simulating movement.

1.57    Charlotte: In the texts maybe it should say clearly that, unless indicated otherwise, the timing of the parts of a step depends upon the context of the movement. When you need to specify details such as when centering occurs, there are ways of doing that. And then give examples.

1.58    Lynne said that in the beginning stages of teaching notation she would not even get into the details of transferring weight. They are too complicated. The details bog the students down in their brains, keeps them from moving, and turns them off to L/N. When you just tell a person to step, they usually know what that means and take a step. An exception was the computer animation people that Lynne worked with, who from the beginning wanted to get into detailed analysis and break the step up into small units. This made it difficult for them to even read simple scores, e.g., Fred Berk’s folk dances.

1.59    Ray: That is true not just about stepping. It applies to all movement.

1.60    Lynn agreed with Ray and gave arm examples. (Video 3 – shows Lynne demonstrating, Charlotte and Ray watching.) 

1.61    Unfortunately there was not enough time to discuss the rest of Ann’s paper because the group wanted to have enough time to discuss János’s paper:

1.62    János’s paper includes a discussion of P. W. Pluto’s “Figure 1.” Lynne felt that “Figure 1” is not correct because it stipulates that the bottom of the direction sign indicates where the support contacts the floor. She feels that the timing of the contact is open to interpretation unless you are doing exact timing.

1.63    Charlotte: However, in Ann’s paper (page 1) she says, “The base of the direction symbol represents (and must represent) the moment the foot contacts the floor, 3b. This is true whatever the part of foot it might be. For the tap dancer, that is the moment the tap sound is heard, i.e. on the beat.”

1.64    Lynne said when putting things on paper, she personally thinks of the notation as having more leeway. It does not state that the foot must absolutely make contact at that moment. She gave some ballet steps as an example. (Video 4 - shows Lynne demonstrating.)

1.65    Ray: The examples Lynne has given are correct. You see those variations of the movement all the time in ballet class. However, those are just individual interpretations of the movement. What is written on the page is what is supposed to be done. If you want all those variations as possibilities, then that must be stated in the notation.

1.66    Lynne said she began thinking about this when she had to write a “dos-a do” for “Gold Rush” [Agnes de Mille]. The movement was turning on a circular path while maintaining your front. There is the “feeling” of what you are doing, vs. what you are actually doing (which looks really strange when you notate it).

1.67    Ray: You don’t write what you feel. You write what you do.

1.68    Charlotte: You write what the choreographer says it should be.

1.69    Lynne: But the choreographer says, “Forward,” and you are actually doing diagonal steps to start your path.

1.70    Charlotte: You need to figure out what he means, which may not be what he is saying.

1.71    Lynne: The issue is, when the dancer is reading the notation, how will they get it right?

1.72    Ray: You need to write exactly what the body is doing. If there is “feeling,” that can go in a bow. [Note from Charlotte: I think Ray meant an intention bow.]

1.73    Charlotte returned to the issue of how open the notation should be. If a given indication is going to be open to interpretation unless it is stated otherwise, then that needs to be stated in the material we use for standardization (e.g., texts and ICKL). On the other hand, if symbols are not open to interpretation, that needs also to be clearly stated. Otherwise, we will not know how to read a given score. Whatever the rule is, it can always be changed by a statement in the glossary. But everyone needs to be on the same page about what the rule is to begin with.

1.74    Ray: It’s not what our rules say, it is what they do not say that causes confusion.

1.75    Charlotte returned to János’s paper. Referring to the April 5 minutes, János wrote,
“Ray, Mira, and Mei pointed out that the rule about center occurring ½ way into the step has been changed. In Guest, Labanotation, page 127 it says that it is ½ way.” I read the referenced page several times but found nowhere this statement. Though it would have been much simpler looking it up if you’d cited the text and/or stated which figure you were referring to, I suppose you meant the explanation about Fig.190a. But here AHG* writes: “At (ii) the weight is transferred half way” (italics by me).
In other words, the weight is not fully centered at the half of the direction sign, but only half way, because the direction sign is followed by a body hold when the movement stops and the weight finally arrives “centered”. In this page AHG says nothing about when the weight is centered during a step. (190.a was used to explain the step-gesture rule, also confirming her stand in opposition with Knust and Szentpál on élancé and coupé.)”

1.76      Caity pointed out that AHG 190a is a concluding step, so János was correct in his reading of Ann’s statement. In her paper Ann differentiates between concluding steps and consecutive steps.

1.77    Lynne reiterated that most step patterns never get to centered. It has to do with physics. For instance, in working with animation, you have to talk reality. You can’t talk about your vision of center, when you aren’t actually centered at all. The only time you are centered would be if you were stepping on a straight line. (Video 5 – shows Lynne demonstrating, Charlotte and Ray sitting.) [Note from Charlotte: Unfortunately, Lynne’s movement is only partially visible in this video. Even so, I think the clip helps clarify what Lynne meant.]

1.78.    Charlotte: I now see that János is correct about how Ex. 190a in Labanotation should be interpreted. However, it is interesting to note that everyone at this meeting was taught the centering occurs 1/2 way into a step. Where did this idea come from? Perhaps centering needs to be explained more clearly in the texts.

1.79    Lynne said she felt centering should not be brought up at all in the beginning texts.

1.80    Charlotte said that P.W. Pluto presents an interesting case. He wants to notate tango movement. For him the issue of where center comes seems very important, even though he is a beginning/intermediate student.

1.81    Lynne said this reminds her of when they started to notate modern dance. That work made notators aware of the difference between a contraction and folding. Likewise, Maria Szentpál’s work in folk dance brought about the refinement of foot hooks. Also, the computer animation people have made us look more closely at the true physics of movement. P. W.’s need for a better way to write Tango movement is also pushing us in new directions. We need to think it though and maybe change what has been established previously.

1.82    Charlotte said she felt P. W.’s paper may have mistakes because the texts do not explain the timing of steps clearly. However, his innovative idea for indicating the timing of centering could be very useful. (He puts a backwards slanted line inside the support indication to show when centering occurs.)

1.83    Ray: We are discovering new possibilities for writing because of issues that have come up and have never been addressed.

1.84    Mira: People sometimes think that new ways of writing a movement are not necessary because they think we already have a way to write that movement.

1.85    Charlotte: The new way of writing may express the intent of the movement better. For instance, P.W.’s idea of combining the idea of center of weight and direction into one symbol makes you think differently than if the two concepts are written separately. P.W.’s indication takes ones focus away from the center of gravity and places it more with the support. Maybe that is what is needed in teaching Tango.

1.86    Mira, returning to Ann’s paper, said she prefers her example 4b as a way to indicate the timing of when the centering occurs (see paragraph 1.50 above). When we notate, we need to think. And the readers are notation readers. P.W.’s slanted line has no connection to how we notate the center of gravity.

1.87    Ray: It depends upon how you are taught. If you were taught that there is a connection, then you would see the connection and read it that way.

1.88    Charlotte: P. W.’s idea would be very useful for scores where you don’t want to have many symbols and want to make the score easier to read. For example, it would be good for beginning notation students.

1.89    Ray: The less symbols on the page, the better.

1.90    Mira: P. W.’s method of writing would, of course, need to be glossarized.

1.91    Returning to the issue of how concepts are explained in the texts, Ray and Lynne said that everything in the texts assumes you have dance training. That may be OK, but we need to acknowledge it.

1.92    Lynne said when she watches her son doing gymnastics, she is not sure she would know how to notate it, even though she has training in how to analyze movement. For instance, there is internal torso movement and impetus that would need to be written. It’s not just about making paths and designs in space. There are many aspects of the movement that L/N hasn’t addressed yet. On the other hand, the system has grown as needs have come up, e.g., what is needed to write a Graham contraction.

1.93    Lynne said that is she is in favor of having the system be looser, so it can be adapted for various applications.

1.94    Ray: If you allow looseness in interpretation, it means each dancer is free to do the movement her own way.