Writing dance, dance notation systems?

by Camila

i have been thinking lately about dance notation and its impact on, well, the works that are being written down.

When musicians write music they do so in order not only to archive their piece but to show it to other musicians and make it so that anyone could play it.

I guess thats how an orchestra builds its repertoire. Do you think dance notation can help to do this in the dance world?

here´s an example of what i am thinking: what if a dancer in new zealand wanted to make a dance work written in labanotation by a choreographer in russia, or lets think about the future:

what if a dancer from the 2550´s wanted to recreate a dance work written today, i guess they could use dance notation to do so.

BUT how are we doing it today? how have we recreated dance works from the past? do we do it? do we use labanotation or any dance notation? and if not, why dont we?

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Jul 16, 2022
Reply for Camila
by: Maria

Dear Camila,

Yes, Labanotation can be used to recreate choreographic works from other people, in other geographic or historical contexts. In fact, it is something that it’s being done today in countries like France, where the choreographic culture has a big support from the government or public institutions.

There are libraries in different parts of the world, where you will find thousands of scores. To make yourself an idea of it, you could start visiting the Dance Notation Bureau Library (you can find it online).

Labanotation is the most universal system to write down dance and human movement in general, but there are other systems that are also used today, like the Benesh system (for ballet) or the Conté system (which I don’t know very much). There’s also the Feuillet system, which was invented by Raoul August Feuillet in the 17th century to notate french baroque dances. The knowledge to read it is preserved in that country. Anne Hutchinson Guests reports in one of her books that there are at least eighty (80) systems to notate dance recorded in the available history.

So, writing is indeed a tool for recording and transmitting dance, like in music. However, not many people use it nowadays, arguing that it is too much work and kind of wasteful, considering that we can film (which is much easier). In response to this, it is important to recognize that filming and writing are activities that demand completely different skills from our mental perspective. The greatest value of writing dance is the process of analyzing movement that you need to go through to achieve the score. It is this process which will develop a wider understanding and greater consciousness of movement. That’s the treasure hidden in notation, and in Labanotation in particular.

Writing dance is an experience of consciousness. If you feel attracted, go for it!

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