Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How "Dance for Walt Whitman" Got Notated

Recently we were given the score of "Dance for Walt Whitman" by Helen Tamiris. Here is the story. While sorting through boxes that were donated to the University of Utah library; Linda Smith, Artistic Director, Repertory Dance Theater (RDT), Salt Lake City discovered a deteriorating reel-to-reel film of Dance for Walt Whitman, which was staged by Helen Tamiris in 1961. Smith decided to recreate the dance for RDT at Brigham Young University. Daniel Nagrin, who assisted Tamiris when she created the work, provided additional coaching and historical perspective. K. Wright Dunkley was brought in to document the work in Labanotation.

The choreography is eighteen minutes long and uses fourteen female and nine male dancers. A narrator reads excerpts from Walt Whitman's poem "Leaves of Grass" in different sections of the piece. The words used in the poem are comparable to the dance itself -- they both truly speak to and reflect the American spirit. The connection between the dance and the poem was so profound that the Utah Desert News reported, "In fact as the dancing flowed fluidly across the stage tears streamed down some faces in the audience."

We contacted K. Dunkley and found him retired and well in Hooper, Utah living near his family. He was one of our first notators, hired by the DNB in the early 70's. During the time of his employment he happened to attend a Charles Weidman rehearsal to watch a friend, Janet Towner. When he was introduced as a notator, Mr. Weidman said, "Why aren't you notating my dances???" K. reported this to Muriel (Mickey) Topaz, then director of the DNB, who immediately assigned him to the task, and as a result we have, Traditions (1935), Flickers (1942), Dance of the Streets (1960), Christmas Oratorio: Quartet and Finale (1961), and Brahms Waltzes (1967).

Subsequently K. spent 20 years teaching at the New York State University at Potsdam where, as Chair of the Department of Dance, he developed a unique major with Labanotation as the core of the curriculum.

More recently he has notated other works: Hanya Holm's "Homage to Mahler," Phyllis Haskell's "In Passing," and the Tamiris work.

As he recounts in the introduction to "Dance for Walt Whitman," Allan Miles' DNB class of apprentice notators (Judith Bissell, Odette Blum, Diana Rosenberg, and Barbara Walden) helped coordinate the timing of the music and the movement. The class had recorded the Opening Section, three phrases from the Boys' Dance and themes from the work while it was being taught at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City in 1964. K. says he used their timing of the movement in relation to the music to confirm what was unclear in the synchronization between sound and picture in the Tamiris record film they were using for the revival.

There are many scores like "Dance for Walt Whitman," that are not produced by the DNB. We are pleased to see that dance companies and organizations are taking the initiative to record historical and significant works in Labanotation. These scores, however, are inaccessible and unknown to the general public. Please send us information of any such scores so that we can try to acquire a copy for the DNB Library.

Score of "Dance for Walt Whitman"
Choreographed by Helen Tamiris (1958)
Notated by K. Wright Dunkley (1992)
Music by David Diamond, Round for Strings
Donated by Repertory Dance Theatre, UT (2005)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Speaking of the Theory Bulletin Board...

A new posting has been added to the DNB Theory Bulletin Board. See the “Minutes for the Open Theory Meetings Thread” to read the newest posting (about XML and sizes of paths) and to catch up on past open theory meetings (which covered all sorts of interesting things, including Graham contractions, African dance, stepping signs, altitudes, and more).

To search for other postings, use the Site Search & Site Map, located in the bottom of the left side menu bar.

Feel free to add to the discussions or to initiate a new topic. Instructions for submitting postings can be found on the Bulletin Board.

Did You Know About...The Theory Bulletin Board

Did you know that there's a dynamic discussion taking place on the Dance Notation Bureau's website? The Theory Bulletin Board is a forum for exchanging ideas about Labanotation (both Structured Description and Motif Description -- see http://www.dancenotation.org/DNB/lnbasics/ for information about both). Everyone interested in Labanotation is welcome to participate. Discussions on the Bulletin Board can contain symbols as well as written commentary. You are welcome to respond to a topic that has already been posted or to submit ideas on a new topic.

Visit the Theory Bulletin board at http://www.dancenotation.org/DNB/theorybb/.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Great Quotes about Notation, Part 2

Here's another glowing line about notation, this time from Paul Taylor:

Great Quotes about Notation, Part 1

Many choreographers find Labanotation and the Dance Notation Bureau to be immensely valuable resources. Here's a great line from George Balanchine on the topic!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Martha Graham's Works in the DNB Library

In 2002 a court decision was made in regard to the choreographic works of Martha Graham. The Martha Graham Center received the rights to 45 Graham choreographic works, former artistic director Ron Protas received the rights to Seraphic Dialogue (1955) and 10 works are now listed in public domain.

The DNB Library houses scores of eight Graham works (Steps in the Street and Diversion of Angels are complete scores, the rest are works in progress):

  • *Steps in the Street (1936) taught by Joyce Herring (2003) based on a revival by Yuriko [Kikuchi] and Graham in 1987, notated by Ray Cook, 2006.
  • American Document (1938) notated by Helen Priest Rogers, 1940's.
  • El Penitente (1940) notated by Muriel Topaz, 1973.
  • *Appalachian Spring (1944) revived by Carol Freed, notated by Christine Clark, 1972.
  • Dark Meadow (1946) revived by Helen McGehee, notated by Susie Watts Margolin, 1964.
  • Diversion of Angels (1948) notated by Muriel Topaz, 1967-1971.
  • Diversion of Angels (1948) revived by Nathan Montoya and Takako Asakawa, notated by Leslie Rotman, 1996.
  • Seraphic Dialogue (1955) as taught by Ethel Winter, notated by Julie French, 1965.
* Dances in public domain

Read more in Library News from the Dance Notation Bureau...

Brenda Farnell and the Laban Script in Anthropology Studies

When people think of Labanotation, it is commonly in relation to preserving/recording dance movements and choreography. It is interesting to note that a group of anthropologists are using Labanotation for other kinds of movement such as rituals, ceremonial action and sign languages. They call this the Laban script to emphasize Labanotation’s formal properties as a true writing system that is comparable to any “alphabetic” script. In one case, Brenda Farnell has adapted the system to notate non-vocal (action) signs in the storytelling performances of Nakota people, an indigenous nation of North America.

Read the rest of this article in Library News from the Dance Notation Bureau...

New Catalog: Notated Theatrical Dances 2008

The 2008 Edition of Notated Theatrical Dances is now available! Newly acquired scores since 2005 have been added. New features are the listing of the permission status of scores for educational, research and performance use, and the royalty and licensing fees if a work is to be staged. The catalog is now available for searching or downloading on the DNB website, or you may order a printed copy for $15 plus postage and handling by phone (212/564-0985) or email (library [at] dancenotation.org).