Monday, July 16, 2012

Oliver Bandel, Doris Green, and Ann Hutchinson Guest's Comments on the April 27, 2012 Open Theory Meeting

Written by Oliver Bandel, Doris Green, and Ann Hutchinson Guest
Compiled by Mei-Chen Lu and Charlotte Wile - July 17, 2012

[Following are comments from Oliver Bandel and Ann Hutchinson Guest concerning the April 27, 2012 Open Theory Meeting Minutes. Oliver's comments were originally posted July 3, 2012 on LabanTalk. Ann's comments  were originally posted July 4, 2012 on LabanTalk.]  

Ann (in black color): Oliver, I am tempted to respond to part of your discussion.  I wish this machine had red or blue, or italics so my thoughts can be placed next to your comments. [Color has been added for this Bulletin Board reprint.]  Let me try putting them in quotes.   (Please note the spelling of my name.)

Oliver (in blue color): Thanks [responding to the posting about videos and a written summary of the April 27, 2012 DNB Open Theory Meeting…]

Good idea to use video for recording the meetings.

I was happy to see Ann Hutchington [Hutchinson] Guest again (even only on video here) and that she is fine.

Also nice, to have now some faces to names of on the list now.

I saw some of the videos, and it was nice to see the different people's opinions and also their movement examples, but it seems to me (even I'm a bit exaggerating now), that the different approaches between Labanotation and Motive Writing as well as the many different concepts have rather become a source of confusion instead of clarifying the topics.

Ann: "Oliver, I do not think there are different concepts, but there are different interpretations.  For example, Charlotte Wile believes that a forward directional symbol can be interpreted as traveling forward.  I believe traveling to be a separate basic action to which the direction of travel can be added.  If you are traveling, the appropriate symbol should be used."

Oliver: Both notation forms are from the "Laban community," and bring confusion.

Ann: "My response – Language of Dance makes extensive use of Motif Notation in a way that the LMA training does not.  I am remembering the Motus Humanus conference where Carol Lynne Moore asked me to give two sessions on use of Motif because LMA students were confused about its use. I gave the LOD approach and clarified a great deal for those present, Carol Lynne was very pleased."

Oliver: If that’s the case, how ever to arrive a possibility to translate between one of the Laban-derived notations into any other notation.

Ann: "I am not sure what you mean by 'any other system'.  Are you thinking of Feuillet, or Zorn, or Stepanov, Benesh or Eshkol-Wachmann?"

Oliver: Another thing I noticed was the interest to say anything in notation and do it completely. I also once thought this is a goal that might be necessary or good if it can be reached.

After exploring the topic of notation in general (not only movement notation) a little bit more, I rather tend towards the idea of combining different kinds of approaches to express something.

Notation is not contradiction to using words (maybe written at the score), and it is not contradiction to video.

Even in mathematical books you will find not only pure notation, but also a lot of words, explaining the context.

Maybe the undertaking to try to make a notation expressing anything, is just trying a goal that can never be reached.

Ann: "An amazing range of movements and movement aspects can be recorded in Advanced Labanotation, details that most people do not need, but much work has been done although not generally broadcast."

Oliver: Ann Hutchinson Guest's example of how a movement in The Green Table was notated (by notating "key frames" instead of notating a path through space) was explaining this. As far as I have understood this example, it was coming from "path in space" was not part of the concepts used at that time. (?)

Ann: "That is true, such paths for gestures were not in general use when The Green Table score was written."

Oliver: So, what you notate today might not make sense easily tomorrow.

Ann: "It depends on the level of knowledge of the reader."

Oliver: The concepts may change or other concepts might be added later. Ann Hutchinson Guest's comment on spatial tension, where she said, that she does not know what this is, was more clarifying than working with such concept, without the people who use it are agreeing on what it should mean. And that than will rather enhance confusion.

What I write here is not intended to vote against notation. These days I'm preparing a workshop and I will also use notation (Motive Writing), even for people who do not know it so far.

So, my comments are intended to point to the situation, saying, that there is some confusion around, and that "a notation that fits anything" might be overarching.
It's not mean as "notation is nonsense".

Ann: "We need more discussions between leading practitioners to share usages and ideas to safeguard a widespread practical use of Labanotation, Motif and Effort/Shape."

Oliver: I just clarify this early, so not to enhance confusion in this discussion too. 

[On July 4, 2012 Oliver sent Ann a response via LabanTalk.]

Dear Ann,

Thank you for your remarks.

I'm sorry to had a typo, when writing your name. I wrote my text in very tired state, short before going to bed, early in the morning...

(it was not 12:59 PM, the time zone must be taken into account...)


[On July 14, 2012 Doris Green sent an e-mail to Charlotte Wile concerning Oliver's July 3, 2012 comments.] 

Oliver wrote: Even in mathematical books you will find not only pure notation, but also a lot of words, explaining the context. 

Doris wrote: Permit me to state that African dancers, throughout all my research from Tanzania to Senegal, do not approach movement in the same vein as others.  African movement is governed by the music itself, which is based on the spoken language of the people. Using the simple action of  " to make a turn"  In the 'Ga' language it would be played on the drum as  ("To, De, Dzi, De, Dzi, De, To"). The dancer hearing these sounds, which is language would execute a turn. 

Whereas a person who speaks the 'Ewe' language would listen for the sounds (To, De, Ga, Dzi, De) and the dancer would execute a turn. The turns are different for each language group. The use of  words is the basis of the language barrier that makes it impossible  for Africans to communicate to each other. 

This is one of the reasons why it is almost impossible for a non-African to create African dance because African movements are based on the spoken language of the people, that is heard or relayed from the sounds of the instruments, that actually replicate the spoken word and the dancer acts out or pantomimes the movement indicated.  As an undergraduate student in Brooklyn College, when I choreographed African-American movement for my dancers, I became intensely aware of this condition. In “Makwaya”, a copy of which is in the DNB library, you will notice in measures 55-58 you will see the indication for the dancers to make a turn. In true African dance the cue would be clearly stated in the music. This mechanism would appear in the symbols of the music, that cannot be written in Labanotation because it does not alter the movement but is an audio reminder that a change is coming. When the dancers hears the musical cue they will automatically prepare for the change. From my experiences this is done to insure that the dancer performs according to the music and not mimmic movement.

I find this as  the most difficult aspect in teaching African dance to students even some Black students would mimmic the movement. As you know I brought Godwin Agbeli to teach in NYU in 1972 and he stressed to the students that they must know the music as it dictates the movement of the dance. Therefore all students had to learn to play the instruments before they danced.  I state this  because I have tried using words with Labanotation symbols. I even created the "Cue  Card" which contains the primary rhythm of the selection. These are my experiences in writing African movements and probably do not apply to other dance forms, but the concept of pure notation and lots of words explaining the symbols or context appears time consuming. 

When I first came to DNB and they asked me what I felt when doing a movement, I did not know how to respond except to say my movement is not based on feelings but on 'sounds' of the drum that clearly define what movement I am to execute and when to execute that movement.  As an African American choreographer, my movements were not tied to a specific language that was indicated by the music.

Because I am a woman, and women should only be dancers in Africa, you can readily see the difficulty I had convincing Africans that their music and dance could be written. When I said I could write African music, many musicians looked at me as to say "who is this crazy woman"? When I told Senghor of Senegal that I could write African music, he said that he did not believe he could understand it because African music was so diverse throughout the continent. I asked him to donate an half hour of his time to let me prove it to him. He agreed and within fifteen minutes he was tapping out the rhythms for himself. He rushed to show the musical director of Senegal and my journey into percussion notation had seized confirmation that African music and dance could be written. 

When I began teaching in Brooklyn College in 1969, there was no terminology for African movements, nor "Categories of African Dance".  There was no map  of the 'different dance regions' of Africa. Each of these things I had to create using theories from pioneering African musicians. We still have a long way to go in the field of African music/dance.

I do not know if this solves the question of the use of words together with pure notation, but it reflects my experiences with the use of words.


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