Notation as Product and Process – Nijinsky explorations

This October I had the opportunity to work with reconstructors Millicent Hodson & Kenneth Archer, Catherine Turocy, director, New York Baroque Dance Company and Claudia Jeschke, a German dance writer on Nijinsky and Doug Fullington of Pacific Northwest Ballet, (both Stepanoff Notation experts). We spent the day examining 2 pages of notation by Nijinsky and embodying his Abandoned Sarabande.

In addition to further examining the world of notation and the crossover of historical eras in dance, it was wonderful to hear about Nijinsky’s fascination with the Baroque period and how his use of notation (read on staffs of music and based on his knowledge of the Stepanoff system) became an outlet for him to explore and create movement patterns, phrases and figures limited in his dancing.

Visualizing, mapping and structuring dance on paper is not uncommon for choreographers – I distinctly remember seeing an exhibit on Lucinda Child’s visualizations of spatial patterns at the Whitney Museum- though when dealing with historic dance and notation, using the details and symbols to further understand the choreographer’s vision in order to bring it to life it requires dance historians. Not only do they understand how and what they are reading, but they bring to it context, awareness of the individuality and nuance of each notator, and a link between paper and body – process and embodiment….

While I reconstruct and teach Feuillet/Beauchamps Baroque notation, it is nice to be reminded that notation can be both a powerful tool within a choreographer’s process and a product or documentation of dance in that time.