In the performing arts, we identify a score as a set of instructions, guidelines or tasks related to the creation of a performance that serves as the starting point for improvisation or as a communication tool for generating movement and action. It can assume multiple forms, from oral to written, from drawn to painted, and from analogue to digital. It also represents one of the possible ways to access the origin of the creative process and serves as a device to document an artefact or a choreographic work, thereby enabling its transmission to future generations of artists and spectators. During the performance transformation from a live act to its traces and from the sign to a performance exploration, the score, as both a tool of documentation and a performance device, as well as its potential enactments, remain “inter-dependent” and complementary to one another. The enacted score and the scored act also open up a multitude of still unexpected forms of existence through time and space.
Interdisciplinary collaborations among visual artists, choreographers and musicians-composers, notably between the painter Vassily Kandinsky and the composer Arnold Schoenberg, or the composer John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham, gradually introduced innovative creative practices that moved the artwork away from modernist ideas. During the 1960s, artistic interest shifted from the production of objects (material artefacts) to the sharing of physical actions (performative artefacts) and to some extent, conceptual processes. The phase of planning and decision-making, the “recipe” for a performance, became accessible to the audience as a work of art itself. Since the first experiments with happenings, devised for instance by Allan Kaprow whose scores were similar to loose scripts, the role of spectators shifted as they simultaneously acted as viewers, participants, and witnesses. They potentially became co-performers and co-authors and, therefore, part of a temporal community gathering around a live work. In these cases, scores completed the artistic framework and challenged social rules and behaviours, traditional assumptions about the roles and meanings of art, and the spectators’ personal and collective understandings of artistic conventions.
A score can convey more or less precise and direct information or patterns, though its structure is not a “closed text” that may lead the performer-as-reader to a unique interpretation. Following The Death of the Author (2006 ) by Roland Barthes and The Role of the Reader (1984 ) by Umberto Eco, scores need to be considered as texts open to multiple interpretations and disassociated from the original context of the creation. Speaking on text, Barthes affirmed that it is the reader who performs the necessary connections between the written text and the author’s identity and context for making sense of the content. Similarly, Eco suggested that a text is open to multiple and mediated interpretations by the reader. Through this lens, scores may be considered autonomous, descriptive or evocative artefacts that remain open to different interpretations, executions or (re)enactments.
Scores, usually found in artists and choreographers’ notebooks, contain and convey the intentions of one or more actions to be enacted within a determined spatial, temporal and relational setting. Still, they can rarely be reproduced in the same way through repetition, even if based on a codified notation technique (i.e Labanotation or Benesh Movement Notation). Scores, based on standardised movement notation systems, are represented through complex visual codes that require expert knowledge for reading. Despite a common assumption that they are a universal language, codified notation systems are less adequate to transcribe the everchanging features of the contemporary performing arts and the fluid boundaries between different artistic and choreographic languages. In other words, a score contains only a small part of what constitutes a performative action that unfolds in a specific moment and context. The different outputs that can be generated starting from the same input (the score) depend finally on the expressive and technical capacities and backgrounds of the performers. Nevertheless, some choreographers regularly use Labanotation or Benesh Movement Notation to notate their dance pieces and prevent them from disappearing. This is the case of Angelin Preljocaj who had the entire repertoire of his company notated, whereas other artists, like Yvonne Rainer, had only one dance piece (Trio A) codified through Labanotation. Moved by the desire to save dance from the ravages of time, she soon became disappointed by the result that confirmed the problematic nature of notation to record and stabilise a choreographic work (Rainer 2009). An additional example that may well depict the documentary character of scores is the Motion Bank project that was initiated by William Forsythe and his dance company. This project aimed to develop digital scores and make them accessible online for research in choreography, as much as for a broader range of cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary practices and studies. These digital scores derive from the documentation of choreographic work and at the same time stand as autonomous artefacts, open to new interpretations and transformations, known as “choreographic objects”.
As something that remains from a performance, due to its often material dimension, a score may persist in time and acquire an independent value from the artwork itself and its creative process. It is precisely this non-ephemeral nature of the score that enables artists to activate their memory, re-interpretate or reenact a work of the past or embody an unexplored idea (De Keersmaeker and Cvejic 2012). On a broader level, scores and the many forms of live arts notation attest to the importance of trace and memory in the transmission and preservation of dance and performance, and to their constant relation to the questions of time and ephemerality. Scores and human actions (enactments, procedures, interpretations, documentation) constitute forms of personal and sometimes institutionalised archives that contribute to the construction of the Western history of the performing arts. As archival documentation and “performance remains” of dance events and choreographic works, notation scores can be acquired by dedicated institutions, which also express interest in a wide range of personalised documents that artists generate and store, at times also allowing their artworks to dialogue with the museum’s collections and exhibitions. If the aim of the artist is to interact with private or public museum collections then the collection itself, but also the museum as an architectural space, can be considered a score for a site-specific performance.
When a dance performance or a choreographic work enters the museum, a whole range of new possibilities for these artworks take shape either as reenactments of past works or as newly created material. Last but not least, the reappraisal of scores due to their “material” dimension as a type of document that is valuable precisely because it is versatile and suitable for transforming a choreographic work and performance of the past and the present into a tangible object, helps to draw the attention of the art market.
Barthes, Roland (2006 ) The Death of the Author. In: Bishop, Claire (ed.) Participation. Documents of Contemporary Art. London and Cambridge (MA): Whitechapel and The MIT Press.
De Keersmaeker, Anna Teresa and Cvejic, Bojana (2012) A Choreographer’s Score: Fase, Rosas danst Rosas, Elena’s Aria, Bartók. Brussels: Mercatorfonds.
Eco, Umberto (1984 ) The Role of the Reader. Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Rainer, Yvonne (2009) Trio A : Genealogy, Documentation, Notation. Dance Research Journal 41(2), pp. 12–18. doi: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27764529.