Arranging for the Notation of a Dance
The Notation Process



The Notation Process
"How Much Does It Cost to Notate a Piece?"

The notation of a dance takes place in the studio as the work is being taught to a group of dancers who don't already know it. The notator is there for all the rehearsals, recording not only the steps but also any imagery, motivation, and characterization given to the dancers by the choreographer or stager. The notation process does not in any way change or disrupt the normal rehearsal process.

The completed score provides a blueprint for future stagings of the work. A score allows each artist to learn the work without being influenced by someone else's artistic interpretation.

In addition to producing the score, which captures the choreography, DNB collects a full range of materials to ensure complete documentation. These materials include:

 Videotaped records of specific performances
Music tapes and marked music scores
Production information such as costume, set, and light designs
Historical information
Anything else required by a specific dance to ensure future stagers will have the information they need.

"How Much Does It Cost to Notate a Piece?"
Senta Driver (posted on 4/5/2006)

This is one of the first questions a Notator gets. It happens to be a little hard to answer quickly, since it does not actually just depend on how long a dance is or how large its cast and production effects, but on elements which are even more key.

The DNB has been examining in detail the real cost of all its activities, as part of our response to the ongoing financial challenge. When we ask for your help, we need to be able to tell you how money gets used, and how far your contribution will go. As one part of this effort, we have consulted four experienced Notators and one potential buyer of a notation project, and came up with interesting new information.

The most important factor, say the Notators, is the quality of the rehearsal process. Notation is best done when a work is taught to a new cast. This ensures that dancers will ask all the relevant questions in the Notator's presence, and the Notator will hear the artist's answers, which all go into the score as word notes. It is vital that the Notator attend all rehearsals from the very beginning, and also sit in on meetings the restager might have with costumers and musicians as well. If the Notator arrives to find the dancers have already been rehearsing, or (worse) learning their roles from video, or misses conferences about artistic information that belongs in the score, the time it will take to produce a final score can be greatly extended. Teaching the choreography from video is especially problematic, because it leaves out the choreographer's detailed explanation of movement and how and why to do it. The Notator needs, and preserves in the score, all the knowledge shared with the dancers and intrinsic to the values of the work.

The second most influential pricing element involves the score: complexity of the music, if used; whether the Notator can get a written score of the arrangement the choreographer used; and how the dance is counted or the cues are established. Notators do careful research into the artist and composer for a project, and their training includes the process, necessary at times, of tracking down the correct sheet music where there may be numerous versions of the same music. Evaluating a recent project, Notators Leslie Rotman and Sandra Aberkalns asked Nancy Allison, who is working to commission notation of three works by Jean Erdman, "Do you have music scores for the works? Do you teach the choreography to sound cues in the scores, or to musical or dancers' counts? Is it relatively easy to find the sound cues? Is it challenging to define the timing for the dancers? Do you use a metronome at all?" Allison's informative answers were a great help in creating estimates of how much post-rehearsal score work the Erdman dances may need. It is this "paper time" that is the unpredictable factor.

The length of the work, the size of the cast, the amount of unison movement used, the length of the rehearsal period and the movement complexity also, of course, influence the cost. Bureau Notators ask for a videotape when they begin creating an estimate for a client. What they produce is an educated opinion on how much time it is likely to take in the post-rehearsal period to turn the rough notes made in rehearsal into a final score. This could be anywhere from two months to a year; as with composing music or handling a legal case, it is subject to unexpected changes. Some Notators work by hand on the final autography, and others use LabanWriter, a software program developed for the Macintosh computer by a team at the Dance Notation Bureau Extension for Education and Research at The Ohio State University.

The DNB process of planning notation has been opened up, again as part of a new approach to its structure and staff roles. Senta Driver enlisted Certified Notators Sandra Aberkalns, Leslie Rotman, Patty Harrington Delaney and Ray Cook in an informal advisory group to recommend notation projects, help estimate their cost, and suggest which Notator might take the assignment.

So the bottom lines vary a good deal. A recent simple but subtle ten-minute duet for ballet dancers, involving a score with sheet music and good background material easily available, costed out at about $8000 after four months of post-rehearsal work on paper. In contrast, a ballet trio that had been taught from video before the Notator was brought into rehearsals, with her only reference a silent film, took over two years to complete, at a real cost in staff time of over $20,000.

As Nancy Allison has demonstrated, sophisticated information from the artists improves the accuracy of estimates. It makes it easier to raise support to accomplish notation's valuable, but complex, service to the artist's concept and to history.