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Flash Preview, 7-27: Journey to
DanceGalaxy Directors Recognize Notating as a Star
By Sandra Aberkalns
Copyright 2001 Sandra Aberkalns
On Monday at 7 p.m., the house lights
will dim and DanceGalaxy's season at the Joyce Theater in New York will begin.
On the program will be two premieres. The first is "Reflections," choreographed
by New York City Ballet's Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins, to music composed
by his son and NYCB principal dancer, Nilas Martins. The second is "Orange" by
Australian choreographer Stanton Welch. There will also be an encore presentation
of "The Flow Bear Waltzes" by Adam Miller. Last but not least there's Choo-San
Goh's "Beginnings,"a ballet that has not been seen in New York for so long --
approximately 18 -- years that it could also be considered a premiere of sorts.
Obviously, a lot of planning and
hard work went into getting this program up on the stage, but sometimes more goes
on during a company's preparation for a season than meets the eye. During its
rehearsal period DanceGalaxy not only had the usual suspects: choreographers,
stagers (representing choreographic estates), dancers, lighting designers, press,
etcetera coming and going, but there were some unusual suspects as well. I was
one of the latter, and it wasn't the first time I "did it" with DanceGalaxy (I
also did it in 1999 with William Forsythe's "Artifact II").
For me "doing it" is notating a ballet.
Even though I've worked with the
company before I can't just show up to a rehearsal and start writing. So, how
are works chosen to be notated, what permissions are required, who pays for the
work to be documented, and who owns the score when it's finished? As I take you
through the process of how I happened to notate "Beginnings," I hope to answer
these questions, but first a little background information to get you up to speed.
In 1983, Sally Brayley Bliss invited
Choo-San Goh to choreograph a ballet for Joffrey II which became "Beginnings."
[Side note: The young cast included an apprentice. Who was the new kid on the
block? Robin Hoffman, the DI's own webmistress!] In my opinion this would have
been the perfect time to notate the ballet as the choreographer's intent was literally
coming straight "out of the horse's mouth." However, manpower, time, and money
all have to be taken into consideration as to what works are notated at any time,
so it is not uncommon to "catch" works when they are restaged at a later date.
Even today, the demand to have works notated exceeds the number of Labanotators
In November 1987, at the age of 39,
Goh passed away of complications related to AIDS.
In 1988 Janek Schergen, a friend
and colleague of Goh's at the Washington Ballet, became the artistic director
of the Choo-San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation. Schergen wanted to preserve
his friend's works in a format other than video, so in 1990-91 he enrolled in
the Benesh Institute to learn Benesh Movement Notation. However, since that time
he has been so busy staging Goh's ballets around the world that, to date, he hasn't
had the time to notate them. Approximately 18 months ago DanceGalaxy's co-artistic
director, Judith Fugate, went to Singapore to stage a Balanchine ballet at the
same time Schergen was there to stage Goh's "Birds of Paradise." Fugate was so
taken with that work that upon her return to New York she and Medhi Bahiri (DanceGalaxy's
other artistic director) contacted Schergen about staging a Goh work for them.
"Beginnings" was chosen, as it was "the right fit" for their company.
Last year, around Christmas time,
Medhi and I ran into each other and I asked him what the company was up to. He
told me that after the New Year the company would be headed back into the studio,
and the Goh ballet would be taught sometime around the first week of March. I
was thrilled by the news -- I had already forfeited an opportunity back in 1981
to notate a work by Goh and I was not about to let a second chance slip through
my fingers. So then and there I asked Medhi for permission to attend company rehearsals
and without skipping a beat he agreed. Even though I had DanceGalaxy's permission
to sit in on rehearsals, I also needed permission from the choreographer's estate
to notate the work. Permissions were readily granted. Schergen is obviously pro-notation,
and according to Fugate and Bahiri I'm "not a stranger" (besides my previous work
with the company, Bahiri and I are alumni of Rosella Hightower's Centre de Danse).
Now that permission has been granted,
who pays for these works to be notated? In the United States it is the exception
rather than the rule that a dance company pays for a work to be notated. It goes
without saying that, especially for a company based in New York, finding money
to pay for royalties (choreographic and musical), stagers/choreographers, dancers,
studio rentals, theaters, etc. is already a daunting task without having to subsidize
a score. However, when I asked if DanceGalaxy would ever consider having a company
notator, the directors didn't hesitate to say, "Yes, we would love to have the
possibility." As artistic directors, efficiency is very important to them. If
a notator can answer questions about a work after the stager has left then that
benefits the entire company in both time and money. Also they are aware of the
problems that can arise when works are learned from video.
The reality is that for now it is
the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB) that actively raises funds to finance projects
such as this one, and so it happened here. The DNB receive funding from organizations
such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the New York State Council
on the Arts (NYSCA), and the National Initiative to Preserve Dance (NIPAD) among
others. Providing funding for notating these works in no way interferes with the
rights of the choreographer/estate. When a choreographer/estate give permission
to notate a dance, it doesn't imply performance rights for the DNB or anyone else.
However, when choreographers, estates, and companies cooperate (by giving permission,
and letting the DNB know when rehearsals are going to happen), this symbiotic
relationship is at its best, and the real winners are future generations of dancers.
So, that's how it came to be that
during a week in March I notated a ballet called "Beginnings." While the dancers
got blisters on their feet, I got calluses on my fingers. When they went home
at the end of the day and soaked in a tub, I went home and cleaned up that day's
notes. As the dancers refined their performance, I refined the information in
Everything that can go right did
go right with this staging. It started with friendships (old and new) but it was
also about collaborations, mutual respect, a love of dance (to perform and preserve),
and the desire to uphold one man's legacy. The result is that DanceGalaxy has
acquired a beautiful ballet while Schergen, the DNB, and the dance community have
a score. Me -- I'm a little sad. Experience has taught me that completing the
final manuscript of a dance that I've fallen in love with can be a bittersweet
experience. Over the next few months my pencil will fly across the paper and before
I know it the score will be done. I wish I could slow down and savor each moment
more but I can't help myself -- I'm dancing!
Rehearsals, permissions, funding,
rights -- all of these elements are vital to the notation process, but the logistics
are only one side of the coin. The flip side is the art of notating works -- how
notators capture choreographic style and intent. So if DI readers are interested
let me know and I'd be happy to tell you all about it. DanceGalaxy plays the Joyce
Theater through August 4, and tours to Stockton, California in the Fall. For more
information about the Joyce season, please visit the
Joyce web site.
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