A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Hello again, lovely readers! I’ve kept my promise and offer a 2nd blog post in as many days to cheer your hearts and minds. Or something like that. All this really means is that I’m finally getting myself to focus on writing a bit more – the result of realizing that much of my professional life will, in fact, consist of writing for specific deadlines. And even though such deadlines don’t always make me comfortable, they do ensure that I get my work finished. So, in an effort to develop good, creative habits, I am setting my own deadlines – and sticking to them!

So, to the topic at hand: photographs. I’ve always loved photographs – and have been particularly fascinated with dance photographs since I was a dancer myself. How to capture the movement and expression of a body in motion is a challenge that when conquered can be truly exquisite. Early in the summer I came across an article from the 1940s in the DNB Research Files debating the merits of dance photograph and how well it represents this ephemeral art form. The article mentioned several examples of photographs, such as the reproduction of a famous one of Martha Graham by Barbara Morgan pictured below.

Newspaper reproduction of a Barbara Morgan photograph of Martha Graham

The caption below the photo discusses capturing the “sheer beauty of movement.” What a beautiful sentiment – and wonderful goal – for dance photography.

Not all photographs important to the study and history of dance are of dancers, choreographers, and performances, though. Many of the photographs included in the DNB Photograph Collection are of lectures, demonstrations, and events related to the DNB and notation education. Others are from rehearsals and performances. Some include accompanying notation with action shots. And still others are head shots or portraits of significant figures. All of them tell a story. A few of my favorites (mostly of dancers) are below.

Alicia Markova from ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘The Dying Swan,’ 1954. Photograph by Jake Blake. Inscribed.

Ruth Currier and Jose Limon in Doris Humphrey’s ‘Day on Earth’

Portrait of Isadora Duncan in the Gardens of Bellevue, Paris in 1916

Rudolf von Laban discusses notation with his student Kurt Jooss

Handling and caring for photographs in an archival setting can be a delicate business in order to ensure the preservation of prints and negatives, both of which are present in this collection. To aid me in some creative conservation techniques, I had the good fortunate of knowing and contacting two experts – Jessi Steiner, the Conservation and Exhibition Technician at the Lilly Library (also my former supervisor, a photographer, and framer extraordinaire!), and Anne Young, the Rights and Reproduction Coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Not only does Anne have a degree in photographic preservation and collections management, but she also happens to be my sister! I was very lucky to have these knowledgeable and lovely ladies help me assess and address some conservation concerns – namely the separation of photographs from mat boards and plastic framing (to the right)

Plastic framing and tape removed for preservation

and the proper storage of negatives that were previously in glassine sleeves (to the left).

Negative in a glassine sleeve (later removed and placed in a handmade acid-free paper sleeve)

Both Jessi and Anne took time out of their busy days to read my emails, look at photos, confer on the phone, and brainstorm solutions. Thank you! With their invaluable assistance, I was able to carefully remove photographs from framing hazardous to their preservation and create inexpensive sleeves and interleaving from acid-free paper to protect the items. Because of that, Mary and I were able to complete the rehousing of the Photograph Collection in about two weeks!

DNB Photograph Collection rehoused

Tomorrow, an entire post about one of my favorite items from the Dance Notation Bureau’s collection. It’s gorgeous – you’ll love it! But, for now, good night!


*All photographs taken by Maureen Maryanski with the permission of the Dance Notation Bureau

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My time at the Dance Notation Bureau has come to an end, but before I head to the next adventure of this fellowship and year, I’d love to tell you about the two collections I’ve been working on over the last few weeks. Today I will focus on a small collection I processed on my own, and tomorrow I’ll tell you about the second one I processed with Mary, the CLIR fellow at the DNB. I hope to follow that up with a post about my thoughts on working in archives and some creative conservation techniques I’ve used recently.

So, first things first. Rudolf von Laban. Born in 1879 in what was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Laban is one of the most important figures in dance history and theory. He laid the foundations for Laban Movement Analysis and dance notation, having developed an interest in the relationship between the human body and the space that surrounds it during his time studying painting, dancing, and acting in Paris, Germany, and North Africa. By 1910, he founded his first school in Munich and taught throughout Europe until the mid-1930s. Notable pupils of Laban during this period included Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss, both pioneers of modern, expressionist dance in Germany.

Rudolf von Laban

One of Laban’s greatest contributions came in 1928 when he published Kinetographie in the first issue of Schrifftanz. The system is known today as “Kinetography Laban” or “Labanotaion,” which is at the heart of the work conducted at the Dance Notation Bureau. Also in the 1930s, Laban developed and staged large scale movement choirs and major festivals of dance under the funding of Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda ministry. Having fled to England in 1937, Laban remained there until his death in 1958, continuing his work on movement analysis and notation with his pupils.  Various people, including Albrecht Knust in Germany and Ann Hutchinson Guest and Helen Priest Rogers in the United States, continued to develop Laban’s system of dance notation and movement analysis.

The DNB has a lovely collection of materials sent to and received by staff and colleagues from Laban. Much of this is correspondence between Ann Hutchinson Guest and Laban on technical points about notation for Guest’s book. Other correspondence includes the Labanotation certificates earned by Eve Gentry and Helen Priest Rogers. The original copy of Eve Gentry’s certificate, pictured below, was gifted to the DNB in 1995. These certificates include signatures from Laban and Lisa Ullman.

Eve Gentry Certificate, 1947

Other items concern the celebrations of Laban’s birthdays – notably his 70th and 75th birthdays. For his 70th, Laban sent notes to staff and students thanking them for their kind birthday wishes – and offering continued information about notation! For his 75th birthday, the staff of the DNB compiled and sent him a scrapbook that included biographies and photographs of his students and other devotees to Labanotation, illustrating the influence and inspiration of his life’s work.

Wir Tanzen, 1936

Two of the most interesting items in the Laban collection – and certainly my favorite – are publications from Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. The first is Wir Tanzen, a 1936 pamphlet featuring photographs of Laban and his dancers in his work “Vom Tanwind und der Neven Freude” for a pre-Olympic festival. A couple things stand out to me about this booklet. First, that it was published in Berlin during the Nazi Regime, not long before Laban fled. The forward was even written by the propaganda ministry and ends with a Heil Hitler.

Forward to Wir Tanzen

To see and handle such primary sources is both special and haunting, as are the images of Laban’s work performed a month before the 1936 Olympics. It is not possible to separate this work from the political environment in which is was created. The appropriation of movement choirs and a community of German dance by the state cannot be denied, nor should it. I admit that I don’t know as much about Laban’s cooperation with the Nazi government as I would like, but it is a fascinating episode in the history of modern dance that I would love to delve into further. If any of you are also interested in this intersection of modern dance and politics, here is a book I plan on reading in the near future.

Reproduced photograph of “Vom Tanwind und der Neven Freude” in Wir Tanzen, 1936

Another aspect of this pamphlet that intrigues me comes in its final pages. The essay “Wir Tanzen” (“We Dance”) discusses the joy, expression, harmony, and unity of dance – as well as the creation of modern community-dancing in Germany because so many people not only desire to see dance performed, but wish to dance themselves. Dance is presented as a unifying German activity that cuts across all social classess to create deeper meanings  and freer, stronger, and happier bodies. A remarkable piece of writing read in the its historical context, what is more astounding about its publication here is its reproduction in multiple languages – German, English, French, and Italian. Below are the two pages of the English version (with German preceeding and French following):

We Dance

We Dance, Part II

The other notable publication from the Laban collection is the 1926 book Choreographie. Bound in faded blue paper, this 107 page volume contains many roots of Labanotation.

Choreographie, 1926

While the appearance of this book in the archive is quite important – especially in such good physical condition – the more extraordinary aspect of this item is the title page. When I first opened the book, delicately turning the 86-year-old pages, I gasped when I saw that under the title is Laban’s signature, dated Berlin summer 1928. There is something quite wonderful in finding authors’ signatures in books; I never tire of it. It’s a physical link to someone else’s life and work – one that is often found in archives. I love to ponder the handwriting – the same as with handwritten letters – and contemplate the journey that this one copy of a book has made since 1926. How did it come to end up in the middle of New York City? Such questions and thoughts intrigue me in archives – and I’ll discuss these and other fascinations with archival work later this week! Stay tuned!

Title page of Choreographie with Laban’s signature in 1928

So, there’s a short introduction to the Laban collection at the Dance Notation Bureau. As always, if you’re interested in learning more about the collection or the DNB, here is the link to their website. Tomorrow, photographs from the DNB’s collection!


*All photographs taken by Maureen Maryanski with the permission of the Dance Notation Bureau

Posted in Dance, Dance Heritage Coalition, Dance Notation Bureau, History, Labanotation, Rudolf von Laban, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Indiana Follows Me Everywhere…

1963 program from Bolshoi Ballet performance

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers, but wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.” Well, I haven’t found any Hoosiers in the DNB’s Research Files, but Indiana is definitely present in the archive! If you look closely at the 1963 program for the Bolshoi Ballet pictured to the right, this performance took place at the Indiana University Auditorium. Several other programs from the IU Auditorium in the 1960s and 1970s also showed up in the Research Files – mostly for major ballet companies. All of these were also stamped with an address:

I’m not sure yet what the deeper connection between the DNB and Indiana is, but these programs made their way to the Bureau some how – and I look forward to researching their journey! Here’s another of the programs from the IU Auditorium:

The National Ballet of Canada

I spent 7 of the last 8 years in Bloomington, Indiana attending IU for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I even spent some time working as a student volunteer in the beautiful IU Auditorium – which is also where I saw some great dance companies on tour, including the Martha Graham Company, Bill T. Jones, and Urban Bush Women. Bloomington is a wonderful place that I love dearly, so it was quite exciting to come across something so comforting and familiar on my very first day of work in New York City!

So, to give an update on the processing happening at the DNB, Mary and I spent about 2 weeks physically arranging/organizing and rehousing the Research Files into acid-free folders. We were able to consolidate files into 6 drawers in 2 filing cabinets:

DNB Research Files filing cabinets

Here’s one of the organized drawers:

DNB Research Files

Now we’ve moved on to creating the finding aids in excel spreadsheets that will be converted into EAD by UCLA. (Thanks, UCLA!)

We’ve had some great finds during the 2 weeks of going through each file. Below are some pictures of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Souvenir program for the Kurt Jooss Company ca. 1939

To the left is the front cover of a beautiful, hand-printed souvenir program of the Ballet Jooss circa 1939. Included in this program is a reprinted letter from Rudolf von Laban to Jooss from 1938. Below is a close up of the program’s back cover that features five dancing couples. Photographs are featured throughout the program illustrating Jooss’ repertory, with exquisite images present from performances of his pacifist masterpiece The Green Table.

Souvenir program – Kurt Jooss Company – ca. 1939

Merce Cunningham and Dance Company poster

To the left is a poster from the Merce Cunningham and Dance Company. I love this design!

Handmade spinner for the Labanotation Game

Ann Hutchinson Guest, co-founder of the DNB, created several handouts, illustrations, and course materials to help educated people of all ages about Labanotation. Some of the items that we’ve unearthed in the archives have been quite adorable. For example: the Labanotation Game, which consists of handmade cards, game board, and spinner.

With the instructions for the game, Guest also included drawings of dancers and movers.

Illustration from Game instructions

Many items at the DNB also consist of Guest’s drawings and illustrations. Another example is the “Fairy Tale for Children,” which explains the significance of some notation symbols through a story and accompanying illustrations.

Fairy Tale for Children by Ann Hutchinson Guest

Then there is this wonderful gem: Robert Hutchinson’s 1957 Labanotation Song! Below are the lyrics, and the music is also included in the archives. A new hit song, perhaps?!

Labanotation Song by Robert Hutchinson, 1957

More thoughts about work in the archives coming soon!


*All photographs taken by Maureen Maryanski with the permission of the Dance Notation Bureau

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Dance Notation Bureau: Keeping Score

The first week at the Dance Notation Bureau definitely flew by! It’s been amazing getting to know everyone in the office, especially Mei-Chen Lu, the Director of Library Services, and to jump right into the work. Mary Wegmann, a CLIR fellow working at the DNB for the  summer, and I have begun physically arranging and rehousing the Research Files. We’ve made some great finds so far, which I will be sharing over the next couple of days.

But first, let’s discuss what this dance notation thing is. Don’t dancers just learn from teachers and choreographers, or from videos and films? Can you write dance? And even if you can, how can it accurately represent the physical and expressive qualities of dance?

Systems of notating dance (documenting dance on paper using symbols and words) date back to the early 18th century, but modern notation systems stem from Hungarian dancer and theorist Rudolf von Laban who published Labanotation in 1928. This system of notation creates scores that function for dance in the same way as music scores do for music. Scores are laid out in measures that correspond to the music measures and contain analysis of the movement, floor patterns, and information about motivations and nuances in the dance. Scores also include introductory information about the choreographer and dance composition, as well as costume, lighting, and scenic designs.

Labanotation describes the structure of movement by using geometric symbols placed on a vertical staff that represents the body. Here’s an example:

Handwritten notation of Bronislava Nijinska’s choreography

To read the score, start at the bottom and move to the top. The staff (seen below) is divided into sections that represent the sides of the body, with the center of the staff corresponding with the center of the body. Moving from this center out, the subdivided sections move from support to leg gestures to body to arm movements, for the both the right and left sides of the body.

Notation Staff

The geometric shapes (seen below) represent movement forward, backward, sideways, and diagonally for the right and left sides.

Direction Symbols

Labanotation was brought to the United States by Ann Hutchinson Guest, Helen Priest Rogers, Eve Gentry, and Janey Price who organized the Dance Notation Bureau in 1940. The DNB is the only organization in the United States dedicated to the promotion, preservation, documentation, and study of human movement and dance through Labanotation. Its mission is “to ensure that theatrical dances can be performed in versions true to the choreographer’s artistic vision.” Paramount to the DNB is the preservation of dance legacies and the promotion of dance literacy through the teaching and use of Labanotation to record and stage choreographed dances.

The DNB Archives house scores of more than 780 dances by more than 270 choreographers, with 4 to 6 added each year. These dance scores are supplemented by music scores, production information, and CDs and DVDs of performances. These scores are used to stage dances across the country  from choreographers like Paul Taylor, George Balanchine, Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon, and Martha Graham.

A 2011 staging of Doris Humphrey’s Water Study (1928), the most often checked out score from the DNB.

For more information about the DNB and their archives, check out their website. You can also learn more about Labanotation basics on the website! Also, make sure to check out the DNB’s Facebook page for the latest news, updates, links, and photographs from the office and archives!


Posted in Dance, Dance Notation Bureau, Doris Humphrey, History, Labanotation, Rudolf von Laban, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dancing through the Archives

During high school, a friend of mine told me that one day I would be a dancing librarian. At the time it made me laugh because of the eclectic range of my interests, which included modern dance, history, and, of course, books. Little did I know that one day I would be able to merge all these interests – thanks to the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) – and focus on dance librarianship and the preservation of dance archives.

Over the course of the next three months, I will be blogging about my experiences as a Dance Preservation and Archives Fellow in New York City. For the first six weeks, I will be working at the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB). More about the DNB later, but first I want to quickly recap the first week of the fellowship, which took place in Washington DC.

A whirlwind of meeting new people, including my fellow fellows, dominated the week with visits to the dance company Step Afrika! and the dance collections at Howard University and the Library of Congress. Being able to discuss the importance of preserving dance-related materials, and the challenges that each unique collection presents, was one of the most valuable aspects of this week. The importance of records management for active professionals and companies in the dance world was another element discussed throughout the week, that has made me quite excited for this summer fellowship and the prospect of working with dance companies to begin the process of preserving their legacies.

However, my favorite moment of the week was visiting the Performing Arts Reading Room at the Library of Congress, especially their current exhibit Politics and the Dancing Body. The intersection of politics and art is the focus of this exhibit highlighting both the social commentary potential of dance, as well as the use of dance (and other arts) as a political weapon. I highly recommend that you go visit the exhibit if you’ll be in DC this summer. If you aren’t able, be sure to check it out in its online format!

So, there’s a very brief introduction to the fellowship and our orientation week. It was a great week, and I’m so honored to be working with a wonderful group of people who are passionate and enthusiastic about dance, history, and preservation. Stay tuned for more exciting details as I dance through the archives!


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