“Transmission of Motion, Transmission in Motion: Some Thoughts about the Use of Written Language for Dance Choreography Notation” – Daniël Everts
The final Transmission in Motion (TiM) seminar of this academic year covered the topic of dance notation and the transference of knowledge pertaining to dance choreography – basically; it was about transmission of motion. Yet, in this final blog post, I would like to focus on an expressive medium that at a glance seems rather stationary: that of written, alphabetic language. In this final blog post, I will take you through my personal thought process as it unfolded during the final TiM-session.
The difficulty of dance notation
During the seminar, Suzan Tunca, who conducts artistic research in Rotterdam’s Codarts Art School’s dance department, explained to us that, while other performative arts such as music and dramatic theatre have clear forms of notation, such is not so much the case for dance – something other authors have likewise commented on (Leach 2017). During the TiM-session, Tunca explained that several different notation languages have already been developed. For brevity’s sake, I will not get into detail about them here. Suffice it to say that most of them make use of specific phrases, many of which are metaphoric in nature. Turns out it is rather difficult to translate intricate movements that have to have a certain emotive intention behind them into precise alphabetic form.
A flawed solution
Why then, I wondered, would written language be used at all? As a person specializing in both the study and production of audio-visual media, intuitively, my preferred solution would be to use video. Then again, I figured, this would mean dancers have to watch those videos over and over again, which would probably take way too much time. Video recordings would also show only the entirety of choreography; focussing on a specific aspect of a movement would be difficult.
In contrast, I realized, written language can be consumed much quicker and it can focus on specific things. Perhaps, then, its use did make sense. Yet, I still found the use of written language problematic. Now, the definitive form written language takes on – the combined symbols P I V O T always refer to the word ‘pivot’ – certainly lends itself well to the transmission of knowledge (Stiegler and During 2017, 60). It is probably why dramatic theatre, to name another performance art, has long ago adopted this method of notation, seen that it often revolves around actors’ individual interpretations of very specific and exact texts.
It is this very act of interpretation – which is inevitable when dealing with language – that, in my mind, made the use of written language unsuitable for the notation of dance choreography. To elaborate: language is characterized by a certain endless openness. That is, any piece of written language is, in theory, endlessly open to interpretation (Stiegler and During 2017, 60). Dramatic theatre is built around that inevitable process of subjective interpretation, but if we are talking about learning choreography, surely these essentially unstable meanings are enormous obstacles?
The perfect solution
Then, when I – an absolute layman in the field of dance, whose only choreography he actually knows is that of the Coincidance (Handsome Dancer 2015) – had almost given up on the use of written language entirely, choreographer Amos Ben-Tal joined the TiM-session. He explained that dance choreography is actually very much a collaborative effort: choreographers give instructions, yes, but ultimately, the actual dance emerges from a process in which dancers try to follow these instructions and talk about it with one another and with the choreographer. In essence, dance as performance art is all about interpretation, just as dramatic theatre is.
Thus it occurred to me that, perhaps, the openness of language actually affords just this process of interpretation, but then without the presence of the original choreographer. If knowledge about choreography entails the continuous process of interpretation, then perhaps metaphorical language is just the right tool for dance notation: it is a way to keep the transmission of knowledge in motion. Gee, it’s almost like somebody named this research community ‘Transmission in Motion’ on purpose.
- Handsome Dancer. 2015. “Handsome Dancer – Coincidance.” Video sharing website. YouTube.com. June 30, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBHkIWAJitg.
- Leach, James. 2017. “Making Knowledge from Movement: Some Notes on the Contextual Impetus to Transmit Knowledge from Dance.” In Transmission in Motion: The Technologizing of Dance, edited by Maaike Bleeker. London and New York: Routledge.
- Stiegler, Bernard, and Élie During. 2017. “Consciousness in the Age of Industrial Temporal Objects.” In Philosophising By Accident: Interviews with Elie During, edited and translated by Benoît Dillet, 58–80. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.