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Flash News, 5-1: She will be missed
Muriel Topaz, Notation Giant, Dead at 70

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

Our colleague Muriel Topaz, a giant in the fields of dance notation, scholarship, pedagogy, and journalism, died Monday evening in Branford, Connecticut at the Connecticut Hospice, of complications related to a liver ailment, the Dance Notation Bureau, which Topaz lead from 1978 to 1985 and inspired for many more years, confirmed Wednesday. Muriel Topaz would have turned 71 on May 7.
Muriel Topa. Photo courtesy of the Dance Notation Bureau.

Topaz, director of the Dance Division of the Juilliard School from 1985 to 1992, notated a stunning thirty works and excerpts or sections from an additional 16 dances. Her catalogue of notated scores reads like a who's who of the most important dances of the 19th and 20th centuries.

"She's left a very important legacy," Ilene Fox, executive director of the DNB, told the Dance Insider today. "It's because of her work -- not just what she notated but her vision and the way she lead the DNB -- that so many important works have been notated, which means that they're going to live on for generations. She's gone, but she's left something to the world."

As a method of preserving dances, Labanotation preceded video recording and is still superior to it, as well as the simple handing down of dances, for one reason: Because the system is scientific, it preserves the choreographer's original intentions, unaltered by individual interpretation.

As a Labanotator, Topaz left her deepest legacy with the work of Antony Tudor, recording complete scores for "Cereus," "Continuo," "Fandango," "Jardin aux Lilas," "Little Improvisations," "Soiree Musicale," and "Sunflowers." Her last notation was of the Venus and Neptune sections of the 1933 "The Planets," which Topaz reconstructed from interviews with cast members. It had not been performed since the 1940s.

Last year, Topaz published "Undimmed Lustre: The Life of Antony Tudor."

Other major works Topaz notated, in a notating career which began in 1961, include Jose Limón's "The Moor's Pavane," Kurt Jooss's "The Green Table," Jerome Robbins's "Interplay" and, with Lucy Venable, "Noces," David Lichine's "Graduation Ball," Doris Humphrey's "Day on Earth," and dances or sections of dances by George Balanchine, Marius Petipa, Isadora Duncan, Anna Sokolow, Mary Wigman, Lev Ivanov, Helen McGehee and May O'Donnell. She notated Paul Taylor's "Three Epitaphs," and was responsible for placement of the first full-time notator on a professional dance company staff, at the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

A member of the board of directors of the Dance Notation Bureau for over 40 years, as its director from 1978 to 1985 Topaz led an expansion which included the establishment of a school, bookstore, and publications, staff expansion, and the addition of the bureau's first development director. She secured funding for the Balanchine notation project from the National Endowment for the Humanities and for the Tudor notation project, and organized the first international conference on movement notation in Israel in 1984.

Topaz authored or edited 12 books, including 'Alvin Ailey: American Visionary," "The Genius of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman," and "Elementary Labanotation."

A former senior editor at Dance Magazine, she edited the magazine's Young Dancer section from 1995 to 1996, which is where this reporter first encountered her. As a supervisor and later colleague, Muriel could be alternately tough and gentle. Among the many dancers, Notators, and others she has mentored, we are fortunate to count many Dance Insider staffers: as a Labanotator, our co-founder and webmistress, Robin Hoffman, who went on to work as the company notator for the Taylor company, among other notating responsibilities; also as a notator, DI founding editor and senior artistic advisor Veronica Dittman; and as a Juilliard student and later dance journalist, our features editor, Rebecca Stenn. It was Muriel who brought Rebecca to Dance Magazine when I was a new editor there. As a dancer-writer, Rebecca would become the prototype -- or precursor -- for the Dance Insider writer: a professional dancer applying her dance background to dance writing. For this, I, and the Dance Insider, are eternally in Muriel's debt.

In 1997, memorializing her predecessor at Juilliard, Martha Hill, Muriel wrote, "She will be missed." And so will Muriel.

The widow of composer Jacob Druckman, Muriel Topaz is survived by a daughter, Karen Jeanneret-Druckman of Rolle, Switzerland, a son, Daniel Druckman of Orangeburg, New York, and three grandchildren, Alessandra, Holly, and Hannah.

A memorial service for Muriel Topaz will be held this Friday, May 2, at 2 p.m. at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Avenue, in New York.

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