If anyone asked you what you thought was the best way to record dance and movement performances , what would be your answer? People throughout the ages have tried to make a permanent record of dance and movement through drawing, paintings, photographs and written descriptions.
If your answer to the above question is “video the dances” then you have come up with a good solution. Modern day technology is certainly a great help in recording a performance. As with most methods of recording dance and movement it has its drawbacks.
The search for an accurate method of recording and analysis began in the 1900’s. Some of the solutions were good at analysing the dancers movements in great detail. Others recorded only the floor pattern made by the dancers feet and their relationship to the music.None of these methods could capture the quality of the movements nor how a particular dancer had interpreted them.
Video has certain advantages over written recordings. Video Cameras these days are relatively inexpensive to buy, easy to operate and with immediate playback are useful in many different situations. For example Historians, Choreographers and Anthropologists can analyise movement from the video. In addition it offers the advantage of viewing dances at 1/2 speed, frame by frame and at fast forward all of which make analysis easier. This is an excellent means of preserving a complete theatre performance by a distinguished cast of dancers.
But video or any other method of filming has certain disadvantages. Viewing a video recording is never the same as watching a live performance. The angle of the shot and editing can lead to distortions of the choreographers intent. Recordings should take place in front of a live audience and be a typical performance. In viewing a performance with a large cast who are not dancing the same step sequence it can be difficult to distinguish what is going on. Mistakes are also recorded. Another disadvantage of recording dance and movement through video or conventional film is that it does not show how a step or a lift is performed and this could be very important from the point of view of safety.
When accuracy is paramount notation is the best recording option. Perhaps the very best solution for recording dance and movement is a combination of notation and film. The major drawback with the former is that its’ complicated. Many forms of notation exist but I shall mention just a few of them.
One of the most important is Labanotation. Laban, who died in the Fifties, was able to look at physical actions and form general laws of movement. He developed a way of analysing and recording human movement of all kinds not just dance movement. Labanotation is not associated with any particular dance form. Laban wanted to record dance and movement in a language of symbols. This came from his wish to create a literature of movement and dance. Symbols are placed on vertical and horizontal staffs. The centre line represents the centre of the body. Symbols placed to the left represent the left hand side of the dancers’ body and vice versa. The symbols are read from bottom to top.Other people have developed and adapted Labans’ methods of recording dance and movement.
Labanotation has allowed anthropologists to record the choreography of dances performed in the field.
A very interesting development is using Labanotation with animation software and hardware of the type used to create “big budget ” films. The dancer wears a special body suit and/or facial mask. This enables any body movements to be recorded to a computer which should then be able to output the information in Labanotation.
Other recording methods are those of Rudolf and Joan Benish and Sutton Dance Writing. The Benish System first appeared in 1956. Benish Movement Notation when written looks rather like a page from a musical manuscript. Benish notation is written on five lines, as in music, and is read from left to right, and from the top of the page to the bottom. All information regarding the position of the body, arms,and legs is shown on these five lines. Positions are recorded in frames as in a cartoon film.Benish Notation is based on English classical ballet.
Sutton Dance Writing is also notated on five lines. The Sutton system uses stick figures. Each of the five lines represents a specific level. The bottom line is the Foot Line and represents the ground. The next line up is the Knee Line. This is at knee level when the stick figure stands upright. The following line up is the Hip Line and the one after that is the Shoulder Line. The symbols are written from left to right. The dance is recorded position by position as if making a film frame by frame.
There is also a new system called Litefoot. A floor specially constructed records the dancers movements to a computer. Their is no need for the person to wear special clothes for this proceedure.
All of the latest methods of recording open up fascinating possibilities for dance to combine with other media in new and exciting forms.