(Capturing Intention): an Interdisciplinary Research ProjectAuthor: Bertha Bermúdez
What is it exactly that we do in our attempts at capturing dance? How do we deal with its ephemeral nature? Which are the existing systems for its documentation? How do these systems deal with qualities and intentions? And even more importantly: which disciplines can help us understand the knowledge that is dance[i]?
Since long, dance has been categorized as ephemeral, ungraspable, without leaving any trace and without any possibilities for self-reflection. These assumptions are real, dance is like a metaphor, representing the natural rhythm of life, where nothing is ever the same but in constant transformation, mutating from form to form. There is no trace, no written text, no tangible product after a dance performance. There only is the memory of an experience for the spectator and the echo of the performance inside the dancer’s living body.
It is this ungraspable condition that defines both the beauty and the disadvantages of dance. Disadvantages, since the experienced knowledge and potential of dance are left unknown to next generations as well as to other art forms and disciplines. It is around this handicap, that the Interdisciplinary Research Project (Capturing Intention) emerged. This project was initiated in
2004 by dance company Emio Greco | PC[ii] in collaboration with the Amsterdam School of the Arts, research group Art Practice and Development, headed by Marijke Hoogenboom. This research project focused on the efficiency of existing methods to document, notate and preserve dance’s volatile nature, departing from its methods of transmission and its intentional directions.
The idea of dance transmission refers to the initial ritual of transfer: the process of transmission from choreographer to dancer, or from dancer to dancer. This communicative process, which takes place by means of verbal and nonverbal communication, embeds the essential information needed to understand what the artist aims for with his/her work. It is not the final result, the performance, which contains this information, but the creative process in which diverse methods of preparation and rehearsal are used to achieve the sought after transformation. A close scrutiny and detailed analysis of the different ways in which artists transmit their work can open new windows on what actually lies inside the dance, its paths and its traces.
It is through my personal experience as a professional dancer gained in the past thirteen years, that I have encountered not only the work and perspective of the choreographers and artists[iii] with whom I have collaborated, but also the experiences and knowledge transmitted through dance praxis. Influenced by previous studies in linguistics, together with my decision to leave the stage, my first impulse to approach this research project was to write a grammar of the body based on the work of Emio Greco | PC. Looking for what made the work essential and different from other artists, I arrived at the importance of intentionality to the work. Whereas it is mainly focused on the physicality of the body, the work of Emio Greco | PC treats form as a container that carries and communicates the constant transformation and becoming of the body. The execution of movement per se has little value within the Emio Greco | PC philosophy. Working with the concept of synchronicity through most of their creative years, Emio Greco | PC have elaborated a defined way of transmission, in which many directions for the aims and purpose of the movement are given in order to understand and execute the created forms. Through praxis and observation of their work and the way it is transmitted, I realized that there was a constant factor to the questions related with the why and how of body movement. What is the purpose? What is the path and trace of the movement?
Can we reflect on our actions while executing them, if we do not intend them? As Rudolf Laban points out in La Maîtrise du Movement (1947): ‘man moves to satisfy a need.’ It is to this need that I refer when speaking of movement intentionality.
So, departing from this theme and from the outcomes of different encounters and discussions with Scott deLahunta, and with Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, the research project took shape; a decision was made to initially focus on the workshop Double Skin / Double Mind.
The workshop Double Skin / Double Mind
The workshop Double Skin / Double Mind is a training method that has been developed by Emio Greco | PC since 1996. Throughout the years, this workshop has served as a daily basis for transmission within the company, merging daily practice with the artistic and ideological urge to discover new means for transformation. Breathing exercises aiming for the extreme expansion of the body, long lasting reboundings and jumps, changes of rhythm and freezing moments and extreme expansions, are examples of the methods used for transmission that can provide an acute awareness of the inner body.
Specific words, sounds and movement directions are used throughout the structure of the workshop, facilitating its transmission. The choice of the words as well as the different elements used to teach this training, sounds and physical directions, are the result of a constant process of research that aims for an ultimate understanding of the specificty of the work. The focus on the transmission of such a training has been very important for the research project, since the close scrutiny of the elements within Double Skin / Double Mind has also allowed the company to reflect on its creative practice, and to have a deeper understanding of the knowledge that is contained in the process of transmission.
In order to understand the different layers of knowledge that need to be addressed within dance praxis, and in this case Double Skin / Double Mind, specialists from different disciplines were approached to be involved in the research period. Cinematography, dance notation, interactive media design, gesture analysis and cognitive science were thus represented[iv]. Each discipline confronted its working methods with this training structure and content, while looking at qualitative and intentional approaches to movement.
Defined as the goal-directed purpose of the movement, movement intentionality has been the main detonator to raise questions around the value of the existing notation systems to preserving the work of Emio Greco | PC. After many observations on the way in which Greco and Scholten research and create movement, I realized that there is, in fact, a constant dialogue between concepts and selected actions in order to achieve its representation. In this way, form and content are related in the form of a dialogue, in which the form of the movement defines the content and/or the content defines the form.
Dance uses movement as a medium of communication in which shapes, skills, dynamics, rhythms, energies, directions, qualities and intentions are used to achieve the sought after effect on the performer and the viewer. It is in this corporeal research that the word intention appears. Especially when the choreographer transmits information that is related to the goal of the movement, this is always accompanied by kinetic information. It is in this first process of communication between choreographer and dancer that specific information related to the goal/need/urge/reason, in other words, the intention of the movement, materializes.
A very thin line of air runs inside your body.
Visualize the internal path of the air and feel it running through all your joins. Start from the toes, move up through your feet, ankles, knees, pelvis, lower back, stomach, spine, chest, shoulder, arms and then at the end, reach out beyond your fingertips.
Grow, keep growing inside this thin line.
Imagine an endless sense of reaching, reach the limit of your body and try to go even further. Release the length of the body, while disappearing inside yourself. Go back through the same thin line, very deep inside and become very small, always ready to appear again.[v]
These words are an example of the way in which the workshop is verbally transmitted. They are a re-compilation of a great number of transcriptions I have made throughout many Double Skin / Double Mind workshops taught by Greco, as well as throughout my personal experience of the workshop as both teacher and participant. They have been collected through the years, in different places and contexts and reflect the words participants will relate to in the different parts of the workshop. These phrases direct the participant in such a way that the specific experience sought for during that specific moment of the workshop can be maximally understood. Next to these phrases, movements and additional background sounds are added, and it is by this combination of media that the workshop is transmitted. A triangle of word (explanations), sound (peripheral information) and image (movement example) emerges as a way of dance communication.
How do existing notation and documentation systems deal with intentional experiences? This was a very relevant question to the project, since it was a question that occupied the minds of all participants involved. Common material on the workshop was shared among the researchers before expecting any answers. To prepare this common material, an internal reflection took place, during which Greco, Scholten, and myself looked at the terms used, at the different parts of the structure and at the qualities used throughout the transmission of Double Skin / Double Mind. A glossary with definitions, key words, qualities and relations to body parts was made, with the aim to making this first internal research available to the different people involved in the research project.
Different research perspectives
Preserving and representing dance through drawings, notations or words remounts itself far back in time. Through archeological founding it has been possible to date more or less the first crafts and cave paintings that represent dance (Bourcier, 1978). Mainly drawings on walls or pottery show bodies moving, in different formations that ‘have led to the conjecture that religious rites and attempts to influence events through sympathetic magic were central motivations of prehistoric dance.’’[vi]
With the evolution of civilizations written words became the next step in dance documentation. Pictorial remains were complemented with written records but still the style, pattern and purpose of these ancient dances could not be depicted out of the document (Markessinis, 1995). The development of notation systems throughout the 20th century together with the invention of the camera obscura, cinema and new media technologies during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, has raised new processes of dance documentation. It is without denial of any of the nowadays used systems that we have approached this research project on dance documentation, notation and recreation.
Cinematography was the first discipline to look at Double Skin / Double Mind. The film documentary Double Skin / Double Mind directed by Maite Bermúdez used the glossary and her personal embodied experiences of the workshop, to find a way in which dance and cinema could relate to each other. Searching for the inner body, where intentions and qualities emerge.
Focusing on the dancers’ reactions to and expectations around the new information given by Emio Greco | PC, Bermúdez concentrated on the process of transmission. During five days she followed the workshop at Impulstanz in Vienna[vii], and focused on finding a cinematographic approach towards the workshop structure as well as the participants’ comprehension, learning and assimilation of new information, thus aiming to achieve the proper representation of what the embodiment of the workshop actually means.
Relating camera angles, length and dynamism to the actions of dancers and Greco, Bermúdez played with the cinematographic language trying to relate its different qualities to those of the workshop. Besides this, interviews and suggestive images complemented definitions and analyses of the workshop structure. This cinematographic search reflected on the relation between dance and cinema, stating that film is not just a documentation tool but also a companion that can influence and be influenced by dance creative practices.
Attention to the ways in which dance is filmed depends not only of its purpose (it is different to film a rehearsal to broadcast it or to just work internally the material for further development) but also from the film skills and economic capacities of the company, school or institution documenting dance with film. Most of the times the recordings are used for internal purposes and neither the light, distance or filming angle are taken into account. This limits the quality of the documentation as well as the development of dance film making, except for those cases where dance and film are artistically related and developing the new art area of videodance.
Beside the complexities and uses of the recordings the question of archive arises as a big problem since the development of new storage formats (minidv, hd, video tape, etc.) needs of conversions and professionals to look at the best ways in which such a visual archive can be done.
The use of video to document dance offers a lot of potential since it can give a general or very specific detailed information of a rehearsal or performance. But it has its limits since it will always enhance the performance of an specific person and will direct the viewer towards a very specific perspective that needs of personal interpretation that may avoid going deeper inside the movement and its intention.
Dance Notation, another discipline involved in the research project, took a similar approach, opening to the challenge the questions around the captation of movement qualities and intentions.
It is not until the XV century that notation scores appear in the west. Drawings of the floor path of the movement and its relation with music were alongside word abbreviations, the first formats to appear. These drawings represented the court dance of that period. The purpose of these notations is linked to the creation of new dances as well as its learning. We can talk about a reading culture for dance at that period.
From this period on different types of notation systems appear. These systems are mainly related to the dance style of the epoque, this relation influences, the functionality of the system and with it, its duration through history. Each new style will almost mean a new system. Words, figures, music notes and abstract symbols are the main formats of notation systems developed during the 20th century[viii]. Labannotation and Benesh notation together with movement analysis methods have served, besides for preservation purposes, to the understanding of the functional mechanisms of movement. Their discoveries have influenced not only the understanding of dance but of human movement.
Eliane Mirzabekiantz and Marion Bastien have been the great help on the area of dance notation for this research project. Following their dedication on the transmission of these systems and willing to find challenges that can confront their grammars with what happens in the contemporary dance practice, both notators decided to follow diverse workshops and develop a series of dance scores. The notion of intention was the target. The purpose of the movement, why is done and for what raison? Sometimes words were used on the scores to address intentions or sometimes the way the notation was done with delicacy and measuring the amount of signs and their function, opened new entrances towards the use of these systems while notating a dance workshop that lacks of prescriptive forms and shapes.
Throughout 2006-2007 inspired by Bastien and Mirzabekiantz, I followed the Distance Learning Course 1 in Benesh Movement Notation and the Elementary Labanotation. I started in the month of March 2006 with the Benesh course. It took me some time at the begging to get used to the symbols and especially to the writing. It felt as if I was learning a craft, a very accurate one. After I passed the drawing stage I realized how easy my mind was adjusting to this new way of looking at movement and I was surprised with the amount of information one could take out of it. Through my talks in Paris with Bastien and Mirzabekiantz, I understood that dance notations are deciphered and that a big amount of mystery is left for the reader of the notation when reconstructing the score.
While doing both courses I looked for directions and comments on movement intentionality. Out of the movement shape, placement, direction, rhythm and dynamic much information on its intention can be depicted. Still this information would always be dependent on the reader interpretation and of course on her/his dance background. If the intention of the movement is really important for the understanding of each action and it is really defined when transmitting the movement then words are written in the score to make this known.
I discovered that there are no special symbols for intentions because it is a very broad matter that cannot be universalized in one symbol and that words are normally added to the score to address this kind of information. Anyhow, the interpretation of the notation will depend not only on how the movement is notated but also on the skills of the reader. Interpretation is a constant issue when transmitting information and in the process of notation is vital for both writer and reader. As Benesh explains in Reading dance (1997), ‘ (…) you are not reading the notation as such (…) you are reading a language. In the case of Movement notation you will be reading a movement language (…). And it is this language with its analysis and grammar which is difficult.’
Out of this learning process and the exchange with Eliane and Marion through the research project it became clear that skills of movement analysis, writing and reading are needed and acquired when notating movement. Dance Notation offers not only a great potential to the documentation praxis of dance but to dance education since it allows the development of movement analysis. Still a lot of questions around its use and value are asked since there is not much used of the systems within the creative space and notation is mainly seen as a documentation tool. What remains relevant is the need of confronting the notation systems with the contemporary praxis, where the latest artistic developments will help further develop the systems.
As an addition to the challenges presented to the notation systems the relation between notators and Frederic Bevilacqua, specialist on motion capture, has been very interesting for the project and its continuation. Motion capture, mainly developed for 3-D animation and used in dance since the 70’s, employs digital recording methods with the use of sensors and video recordings. Motion capture has been used for diverse purposes in dance, being the performative ones the most exploited. Recent trends are initiating its use for movement analysis and possible preservation. Since this technology works with realms of quantity, a qualitative approach is in itself a big task for such a system.
Bevilacqua’s work focuses on this challenge by researching relations between gestures, their data and sonic feedbacks. The qualitative experiences of dance and music have lots in common, serving sometimes as metaphors that may help hear what we see and see what we hear. The relation between movement and sound is in itself a long research. Throughout this project many connections were found between them that could lead to some answers around intentions and qualities, their functions and mechanisms.
Where to place the sensors in the body? And how to look at the extracted data from the movement? These were the first questions we had to answer during a motion capture session at IRCAM, Paris. The developed eye notators have for movement was of great relevance for this experiment, where Greco went through different parts of the workshop while being tracked by sensors and video at the same time.
This experience revealed that the embodied knowledge accumulated in the body of the dancer, together with and external analysis done by notators and the quantification revealed by motion capture, need of a constant dialogue to achieve results and understanding. During these activities, sometimes separated, sometimes all together, a common language started to appear where all the different disciplines could find their own voice revealing the ‘knowledge that is dance.’[ix]
Slowly the different results of the workshops, laboratories and meetings needed a container, a common space where to continue the initiated dialogue. From the beginning of the project the use of new media design was very important. This young discipline offered the possibility of having different sources of information on the same interface layout.
New media design is a cognitive representation of the inside structure of an artistic work. Chris Ziegler artist and designer has developed different multimedia titles for theater and dance. His knowledge was a gift for the project, since he could find a way in which this complicated subject, the capture of intentions could be represented in a dvd-rom and later in an interactive installation.
To achieve the final design that provided access to the self-awareness preparation of the dancer proposed by the workshop, all the layers of codification and understanding needed to be present. The structure of the workshop was broken down into chapters and subchapters. The explanations separated from demonstrations and different areas were addressed to each form of representation; texts, notations, videos and motion capture. The possibility of merging all these different mediums of documentation inside the same space, together with the dynamism new media design offers has revealed a great potential for future methods of documentation of dance where not only what medium but many are necessary for the safeguarding of this artistic praxis. The movement tracking software Gesture Follower[x], developed by Bevilacqua (IRCAM) represented this last area inside the dvd-rom. This software based in motion capture methods, compares filmed movement data with real time gestures of the participant’s movements. A special window where the follower is active leads towards the experience of different movement dynamics that as in the practice of dance are linked with sound and shapes that can be learned, played and recreated.
It is this part of the dvd-rom that was developed further into the idea of a simulative space, the Interactive Installation Double Skin / Double Mind. This installation is a virtual version of the Double Skin / Double Mind workshop. This interactive space combines words, Emio Greco’s descriptions and directions on the workshop structure, sounds, different sound files used to create an atmosphere as well as give feedback, and images[xi] were the real size figure of Greco serves as a virtual teacher.
It is around this area of simulation where the role of Corinne Jola, cognitive neuroscientist based in London UK became very important. Jola followed the workshop and different labs where all the researchers presented their outcomes and discussed the path to follow. Her scientific views on movement intentionality, together with her remarks around the external perspective participants may have of the workshop, helped define some questions around the installation’s feedback.
What do participants see or may see? Focus was placed on the teaching environment of the workshop on the words and sounds used during its transmission. These reflections gave ideas on how to create a simulative space. Where the awareness of the participant towards his/her body and its different movement qualities and mental states could be awaked. Since the researched motive was a workshop the point of view and experience of the participant are an important part of the research that will be further developed in its next phase.
The ongoing fight against dance illiteracy made part of the project as well; text, our linear companion, did not escape the trials to capturing intention. The role of words within the divers processes of transmission reveals the need to understand the use of language within the praxis as well as in the reflective and theoretical area. How to write about dance?
DeLahunta, eminent figure for this project as well as for the dance research community since many years, edited the publication (Capturing Intention). This publication contains articles and essays on the research project as well as on issues of preservation and archival of dance. It is a documentation of the process showing the different perspectives and languages used by the interdisciplinary team.
DeLahunta represented throughout the project a needed external look capable of relating this project with other similar researches initiated by artists from different countries where he is involved. His remarks and perspectives have allowed the project to sustain a healthy path aiming always to communicate to others what the discoveries or problematics are as well as focusing on the documentation process and dissemination areas of such a divers project. The further development of networks where similar research projects can meet and exchange ideas and results seams essential for the dissemination of knowledge and experiences that will help the future development and accessibility of such a relevant research projects.
The interactive dvd-rom and installation, film documentary and publication represent the methods and aims of the research project as well as an attempt, not yet a result of the complicate issue that movement intentionality is.
Throughout dance history, experiences and methods have been stored in the form of notes, drawings, paintings, pictures, notation systems and later, through the development of technology, in the form of film and video recordings, motion capture and, most recently, in the shape of interactive tools like websites or DVD-ROMs. The use of these different methods is historically linked to the needs and technological possibilities of a specific moment in time, as well as with the knowledge and needs presented by the artistic practice.
In the project (Capturing Intention), text, new media, dance notation, cinematography and the use of interactive spaces, have been modelled in order to correspond to the subject of the research: the artistic work of an artist that focuses not only on the form of the movement but also on its content. The publication, interactive DVD-ROM, interactive installation and the film documentary, all help us think about the diverse layers of dance that are transmitted through its practice and not yet preserved through these tools.
These results and the entire process of research with its ensuing methods has made clear 1) the need to look for what is essential in the work of an artist as well as his/her methods of transmission, 2) the need for different disciplines working together, for opening up their diverse perspectives and 3) the need to attribute value and give space to all the intentional information contained in the form of the movement when made explicit by the artist. (Capturing Intention) has served as first trial to define a new methodology to document dance and its practices where different methods are used and needed to understand the deeper insides of dance and make them accessible to others.
Since October 2007 the outcomes of (Capturing Intention) have been tested and disseminated through different platforms, like Tanzplan Deutschland[xii], Nederlandse Dansdagen, Springdance Utrecht and also through lectures and workshops at different universities and schools. Students, professionals, researchers and dance lovers have experienced the different results. These exchanges have been of great interest to the research project as they have raised new questions and opened up new directions for its next phase of research.
In the coming three years the interdisciplinary research project will be further continued and developed under the title Inside Movement Knowledge and will focus on these questions as well as on generating new questions and methods for the future analysis of dance creative processes. This project, which was initiated by the Amsterdam School of the Arts, research group Art Practice and Development, has now managed to secure financial support from the national Foundation Innovation Alliance within the newly created funding program RAAK (Regional Attention and Action for Knowledge circulation) and will soon enter this second phase of reflection by testing the outcomes of our previous investments.
The further elaboration of the Interactive Installation Double Skin / Double Mind and a first entrance into the development of methods of documenting the creative processes of Emio Greco | PC, will be the main subjects of this project. Different disciplines will share questions on dance education (Amsterdam School of the Arts, Dance Department), dance studies (University of Utrecht), new media, documentation and preservation (Netherlands Institute for Media Art) creative practices (Amsterdam School of the Arts, research group Art Practice and Development) and dance practice (Emio Greco | PC).
Still hidden in the future, the results of this second phase of the project await to be discovered. They will undoubtedly raise many other questions that may contribute to the further development of our passion and love for dance.
[i] Dedication from (Capturing Intention), Documentation, analysis and notation research based on the work of Emio Greco | PC© 2007, EG | PC and AHK ISBN: 978-90-810813-2-0.
[iii] William Forsythe, Nacho Duato, Jirí Kylián, Hans van Manen, Rui Horta, Gregory Colbert and Emio Greco | PC.
[iv] Cinematography, Maite Bermúdez, (Las Negras Productions, Barcelona)
Gesture Analysis, Frédéric Bevilacqua (IRCAM, Paris)
New Media Design, Chris Ziegler, (ZKM, Karlsruhe),
Cognitive process, Corinne Jola, (UCL, London)
Dance Notation, Marion Bastien and Elian Mirzabekiantz (Notation Free and Benesh Centre, Paris)
[v] Cited from the article Butoh-Kaden a dance notation system for Butoh, by Bermudez B. from Capturing Intention), Documentation, analysis and notation research based on the work of Emio Greco | PC© 2007, EG | PC and AHK ISBN: 978-90-810813-2-0
[viii] For more information on dance notation, Hutchinson Guest A., Choreo-graphics a comparison of Dance Notation Systems from the Fifteenth Century to the present, Gordon and Breach, 1989.
–Labanotation, Fourth Edition, 2004.
–Dance Notation, the process of recording movement on paper, Dance Books, 1984.
[ix] Dedication of the (Capturing Intention) publication.
[x] Gesture Follower is developed by the Real Time Musical Interactions team, IRCAM Centre Pompidou – CNRS STMS. Copyright IRCAM.
[xi] Saskia Kersenboom, Word, sound, image; The life of the Tamil text Oxford/ Washington: Berg, 1995. 259 + xx Pages, bibliography, glossary, index. ISBN 0-85496-424 (cloth), 1-85973-008-6 (paper). With CD-I Bhairavi Varnam, Eindhoven: Philips/ CODIM Interactive Media.
Postscript by Bertha Bermúdez (June 2019)
(Capturing Intention): An interdisciplinary Research Project (5th Volume)
(Capturing) Intention was the beginning of a series of three research projects around the work and artistic questions of choreographers Emio Greco and Pieter C.Scholten, developed from 2005 up until 2014. After (Capturing) Intention, the two-year (2008-2010) collaborative, interdisciplinary research project Inside Movement Knowledge took place using the outcomes of (Capturing) Intention as a ‘case-study’ to continue exploring the artistic questions of around the work of choreographers Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten in the frame of a new consortium coordinated by the Art Practice and Development Research Group of Amsterdam School of the Arts. This consortium was made up of: the Netherlands Media Art Institute (through their preservation department); the University of Utrecht (through the newly established Theatre Studies program); and the Dance Department/ Theaterschool, Amsterdam School of the Arts. This consortium focused on new methods for the documentation, transmission and preservation of contemporary choreographic, and dance knowledge. This second research project produced different outcomes; a documentation model for EG | PC’s Extra Dry performance (developed by the Netherlands Media Art Institute), the book publication edited by Maaike Bleeker Transmission in Motion, the technologizing of Dance (2016), the magazine publication part of the series of The RTRSRCH Vol.2 Issue 2 [NOTATION] (published March 2010), the development of the Ds/Dm interactive installation into a workshop mode, with the help of teachers and students from the Amsterdam School of the Arts, creation of an International Associate Network and a web page of the project.
The research methodologies established within the previous research projects together with the necessity of reflection upon the creative processes of the dance company Emio Greco | PC pushed the development of the third research project, Pre-choreographic Elements (2009-2014). This research project reduced in number of researchers and consortium, became almost a company research project, where the choreographers and dancers of the company were mostly involved. Pre-choreographic Elements focused on the pre-phase of choreography where movement material is being created, shaped and tested. Through a process of selecting and naming movement concepts derived from the repertoire of Emio Greco | Pieter C. Scholten, the research analysed the terminology, used during the process of transmission established within the dance company. As a result, a web site was developed, an attempt to create a multimodal glossary of some of the pre-choreographic elements, an interactive installation based on the use of objects and sonic feedback named Pre-Choreographic Movement Kit, the protocol Transmission in dance practice through language and principle definition and a series of performances inspired and based upon the defined pre-choreographic elements.
All these different research projects, raised questions upon dance transmission, documentation, and digitization to bring further the knowledge that is the dance.
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