Author Topic: Notating a Dance Sequence  (Read 6225 times)

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embow

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Notating a Dance Sequence
« on: Aug 23, 2007, 08:59 pm »
I am about to start working on a musical, and I was curious how other SMs notate the dances. I've worked on musicals before and have a system that's worked, but I've always felt there must be a better way. Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks
Emily

sievep

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #1 on: Aug 24, 2007, 01:21 am »
That's what a Dance Captain is for.  From my experience, it's never been my responsibility to write down dance steps, and unless you are a dancer or have knowledge in that area, I wouldn't offer to notate it.  It will be a TON of scribbling in your score and unless you have the vocabulary of a choreographer, it will just frustrate you.  Or, if you have an inexperienced choreographer who doesn't use proper terminology, you shouldn't take it upon yourself to translate it.  My two cents.
"This lovely light, it lights not me" - Orson Welles

Celeste_SM

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #2 on: Aug 24, 2007, 01:40 am »
I don't notate the full dances either.  I do keep track of major markers (for example, if the dancers all enter in a line, I write down the order and position of the people in the line), and I sometimes note major landmarks within the dance.  For tap shows, I get the kahnotation from the choreographer for my records, but that's about it.

When I do write down a dance for some reason (for example, in working with a choreographer that wrote nothing down, in a show with no dance captain and a cast member that struggled with fairly simple dance), then I use one line for counts, and one line for steps.  I use intuitive abbreviations (ie. bb=ball back, bsf=back side front, c=chasse, kbc=kick ball change) or just write out the words.  Sometimes I use litte stick figure on a third line, if there are body lines that are critical, that I can't capture in words.

philimbesi

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #3 on: Aug 24, 2007, 08:39 am »
I usually use X's and O's kind of like a football play, but you have to be careful to make sure your script doesn't look like a tic tac toe game threw up. 

Hit up the Choreographer and / or the dance captain some note their own dances and some are willing to give you copies of the notation... and a key to translate it to English. 


ljh007

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #4 on: Aug 24, 2007, 08:58 am »
There's a good discussion of musical notation here in the Plays/Musicals forum:
http://smnetwork.org/forum/index.php/topic,2018.0.html

RobertMillsSM

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #5 on: Aug 24, 2007, 06:19 pm »
On the shows that I have worked, I notate most of the dances just as if they were blocking using terminology that i will understand and remember. And if I have to explain it to anyone it usually works, if not I'll do my best to demonstrate it. YAY! for humility.

I do take my time (and usually a spare sheet of paper inserted into my script) when writing down the moves in a dance break. Since there are no words here it is more important to have a good description of the moves for cueing purposes.

Nbayard

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #6 on: Aug 24, 2007, 10:15 pm »
I just finished a musical, and had wonderful choreographers who wrote everything out by the measure!  I would normally use that and then where people enter and exit, etc.  Usually the choreographer is at the major rehearsals before opening to help, because of the look of their moves, etc.  So it helps if you can use the score and what pertains especially for you to communicate that with the designers.  Lighting in particular

ljh007

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #7 on: Aug 28, 2007, 08:34 am »
I do think it's important for SMs to have a dance notation they can whip out and use when needed. In years of working theatre, musicals, and opera, I have only once had an amazing choreographer who came to rehearsal with copies of his work (with page/measure reference) for the SMs. But you should never count on it, even though I would encourage you to ask that your choreo do this. In fact, among professional (ie inter/national) choreographers outside the world of dance/ballet, I have never seen one come to SMs with dance notation prepared. You'll have to be ready to absorb and record it. Even when I am given some notes from the choreo, I usually jot something to myself in my book, just so I have to shuffle fewer papers during a tech session.

sievep

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #8 on: Aug 28, 2007, 12:28 pm »
Just my opinion, but I think it's absurd for a choreographer to expect Stage Management to fully notate dance sequences.  I'm all about jotting down notes for your own purposes (The general picture, important moves, etc.), but the industry standard is that a dance captain/assistant is assigned and takes notes.  And according to AEA, the dance captain gets paid to do this, and know their stuff (the dancers also get paid to know their stuff, but that's a different story).

I would equate it to the lighting designer expecting me to jot down focus notes.  That's what an Assistant Designer and/or Master Electrician is for.

From looking at a performance, I can tell if someone is off step (or in my analogy if a special is out of focus or out) but Stage Management should not be responsible for running a brush up dance rehearsal from his or her notes (or replacing a burned out lamp).  If you don't draw the line, you are doing too much and others aren't doing their jobs.  I think we are all used to stepping up when the need arises, but sometimes we do more harm to ourselves by taking on the world.  It's not our job to do everything, and if you try you'll burn yourself out.
"This lovely light, it lights not me" - Orson Welles

D

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #9 on: Sep 05, 2007, 06:07 pm »
First this is a response to the original poster and second to the reply above.  As far as any dance notation it is crucial that you notate starting and ending positions just as you would blocking.  During separate rehearsals, choreography and blocking, the director may need to know where actors need to be at the beginning of a dance break so he/she can end the scene with them in those positions.  In that case simply use the notation you would for blocking.  As far as the sequence, know that dances are choreographed in sections just like a written piece of work, words or music.  Break your blocking into groups of people (dancers), and look for the transitions in between sections.  This is where your lighting cues will most likely happen.  Notate warnings such as "girls raise right arm" before the next group crosses down, this will help you call the que.  More over, feel the dance.  Listen to the music and know where the musical sections change; the choreography will change too.  A SM or board op should be able to 'dance the dance'.  Not meaning you should be able to get up and do the dance, but dance it in your head and have fun with calling those lights.  I am a trained dancer and specialize in musical theatre and dance production, which helps me in my notation.  If you really want to take great notes look into Laban notation.

No, a SM should not be expected to run a dance rehearsal nor teach a dance.  However, a SM needs to know every aspect of his/her show and be able to handle anything.  If a lamp goes out, and no one, for what ever the reason can fix it. my speed wrench is right on my hip to step in and take care of the problem.  Pointing out blame and fault can happen at a later time, in the mean time I have a show to put on and am willing to do what ever it takes to make sure it is clean.  So when a spot op is not following a dance sequence I want to be able to break it down for them so that they understand the movement.  On the other side, if a dancer is missing the  que step then I need to make that dancer aware that we call the que on that movement.  In short, it's theatre, it's live, and so unpredictable.   

sievep

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #10 on: Sep 06, 2007, 11:38 am »
Hey D,

Thanks for posting, and welcome.

I think we come from two different places.  I did say that you should jot down important dance steps, so we agree on that point.  When dealing with a union cast, the union has specifically designated the responsibility of dance notation, memorization, and upkeep to the dance captain, and I let them do their job, just the same as I don't expect the dance captain to duplicate my work (and would be offended if they did).  To use my analogy, if I tried to replace a lamp in most houses that I work in, a union electrician would serve me my head on a platter.  I can't touch a prop in most of the houses I work in.  I've never even found the need to fully notate a dance sequence because I call a musical, opera, or ballet from a score, not from visual dance moves.  I don't feel the dance because I read the music.  It's just a different way of doing things based on a different skill set.

My guess is that your experience, which is no better or worse than mine, just different, allows you (and sometimes demands you) to be the kind of stage manager that can take on every aspect and detail, and if that environment and set of responsibilities works for you, I say good for you!  As I've also said, training as a dancer would allow one to understand dance at a deeper level and I'm sure to take better notes. 

For the purposes of advice I express my opinion, like everyone else on this forum.  I rarely believe my answer to be the sole correct answer, as we all have different situations and different experiences. For educational purposes, I find Laban notation to be antiquated and think that the ability to read music is a much more sought after skill set in our industry.


 
"This lovely light, it lights not me" - Orson Welles

D

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #11 on: Sep 07, 2007, 03:04 pm »
Yes, different work environments and let me tell you I am learning everyday how different the world of educational theatre and professional theatre is.  I am one week away from opening my first professional show, though non-union, and it is so crazy for me to not have to do everything and pick up the slack of others.  I appreciate you (Paul) for reminding me that the change of duties is even greater at the union level.  For the first time in eight years I have not had to make copies of scripts, write out a mic assignment sheet, set up the orchestra, help build the set, help hang lights/focus, etc.  But it's nice...very nice.  It took me a couple of weeks to relax about the anxiety I had feeling 'I should be doing something'!  Even so, 2 nights ago we needed the sound designer who had went to her office and I ran to get her, my TD explained to me that I could have/should have had her assistant track her down.  My decision to switch to professional theatre, aside from wanting to make a full time living as a SM, came about by way of technicians not showing up to work prepared and skilled. I have very high standards, which I have realized proceed that of techies not carrying a flashlight, multi-tool, and wrench at all times or actors who do not respect my position.   On that note, I am also a carpenter and grip who takes every tool I will need to a call.  Basically, I am ready for union standards but certainly have much to learn about what is expected from a SM at that level. 

Back to dance notation.  I too read music and have yet to call a show from a score.  Again, different ways of doing things.  This is why (one of the many reasons) I love this site.  Here we gather under one common  , sharing different styles, techniques, tricks, and so forth of our trade.  It is truly a comfort to read these post from people who are up against a task new to the them that someone else can offer insight to or from people who are dealing with a similar situation to one that you may be in and felt like you were the only one.   More over, I was relieved in the discovery that I was not the only SM who has an addiction to office supplies and in fact seems to be a prerequisite for our craft. 

Cheers

Rhynn

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #12 on: Nov 11, 2007, 10:07 pm »
Before the rehearsal I create separate papers for blocking.  One type will be the score, one set of eight-counts for 1/4 page, leaving blank space in between.  I then insert miniature floorplans underneath each bar.  After writing down positions of the corps, I use stick figures near each beat to indicate positions of arms and legs.
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I'm flattered, but the answer is still no.

kirstums

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Re: Notating a Dance Sequence
« Reply #13 on: Feb 02, 2008, 04:05 pm »
As a dancer turned SM (I know, shocking) I found that for the shows I have worked on that include dance my knowledge of dance definitely helped my cuing and other such things, but that doesn't mean I expect every other SM around to be able to notate dance, its a very personal thing in my opinion and I think it's an advantage if you can.
In my prompt books however I make sure the notation is SIMPLE and human (and in lots of cases little stick men :D ) in case some needs to cover my book.


xx kirsty xx


EDIT: Corrected grammar and spelling mistakes and removed all "txtspeak." --PSMK
« Last Edit: Feb 02, 2008, 07:27 pm by PSMKay »

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