Ann Hutchinson Guest, who put the dance on paper, dies at 103

Ann Hutchinson Guest, one of the world’s foremost authorities on dance notation, the crucial practice of recording dances on paper like ...


Ann Hutchinson Guest, one of the world’s foremost authorities on dance notation, the crucial practice of recording dances on paper like a musical score, died on April 9 at her home in London. She was 103 years old.

Lynne Weber, executive director of the Dance Notation Bureau, which Ms Hutchinson Guest and three other women founded in 1940 to promote what was then an esoteric practice, confirmed the death.

Ms. Hutchinson Guest was familiar with a number of dance notation systems, which seek to preserve choreography as its creators intended rather than relying on memory or film. But she was particularly devoted to the one introduced by Rudolf Laban, which is now widely known as Labanotation, a term she is said to have coined.

She studied with Laban, who died in 1958, and she was instrumental in spreading the knowledge and use of his system, as well as in its expansion as the art of dance itself developed.

Ms Hutchinson Guest was a Broadway dancer in the 1940s and early 1950s, appearing in musicals like ‘One Touch of Venus’ (1943), in which she worked with Agnes de Mille, and ‘Billion Dollar Baby’ (1945), choreographed by Jerome Robbins. By then she was already a fan of scoring, and after Cole Porter’s long-running musical “Kiss Me, Kate” opened on Broadway in 1948, her choreographer, Hanya Holm, asked her to score. the dances of the show.

Thanks to his work, the show became, in 1952, the first choreographic work to be recorded for a Copyright.

“She absolutely understood that the dances should be copyrighted,” said Ms. Weber, who recently worked with JaQuel Knight on the scoring of her choreography for BeyoncĂ©’s “Single Ladies” video, said in an interview. “She was a visionary.

The acceptance of dance notation was stimulated by Dance scoring deskthat Mrs. Hutchinson Guest founded in New York in 1940 with Eve GentryJaney Price and Helen Priest Rogers. Labonotation is essentially “a living language,” as Ms. Weber put it, using symbols to represent dance moves.

“The printed page of Labanotation resembles a combination of hieroglyphs, pictographs, Morse dots and dashes, doodles, and an edge-turned musical score,” wrote the Associated Press in 1954, when the concept was still new.

Once, during the Second World War, a postal inspector pointed to log papers that Mrs. Hutchinson Guest and Mrs. Rogers had sent to Laban in England, suspecting that they were some kind of espionage written in code . The same thought came to whoever wrote the headline of a 1951 article about Mrs Hutchinson Guest in a Sunday supplement. “This dancer who writes funny symbols is not a Russian spy”, he said, “she uses a strange new invention which can have many applications.”

These apps included anything involving physical movement, from how to operate heavy machinery to the proper golf swing.

“At a time when the world of elite dance was almost entirely male-led, Guest created an important women’s institution dedicated to preserving the movement for posterity, using a sophisticated technique that few mastered” , said Whitney E. Laemmli, historian. of science and technology at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of the 2017 article “Paper Dancers” in the journal Information and Culture, said via email.

“She led the effort to standardize Labanotation,” she continued, “and her promotion of the system ensured the continued use of Labanotation for nearly a century. The Labanotation guides of which she is the author are still cited today, not only by choreographers but also by scientists and engineers interested in the study and simulation of human movement via computer.

Ms. Hutchinson Guest has often been asked, why bother with scoring? Can’t dances just be filmed? The long answer was that the film could only capture one version of a choreography, including the errors made by the dancers; the scoring, on the other hand, was unbiased and specific and true to the choreographer’s intent. It was the difference between hearing a symphony and seeing the different parts of its score.

In a 1953 interview, she gave a shorter answer.

“Can they film dancers from everything body angles? ” she says. “And the clothes of the dancers get in the way; will they dance naked?

Ann Hutchinson was born on November 3, 1918 in Manhattan. His father, Robert, wrote crime novels. His mother, Delia Dana, was a granddaughter of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Richard Henry Dana, author of “Two Years Before the Mast.”

Against all odds, Ann owed her lifelong interest in dance to illness, as she explained when she opened the Chance to Dance competition at Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts in 2019 – yes, at 100 – with a brief lecture and a solo dance performance.

“When I was 8, I had a burst appendix,” she said. “I had five hours to live. I was in bed for a month. A year later I had another major operation – in bed a month. For two years, I could only walk. I was not allowed to run, jump, swim, climb trees or anything like that. I was very heavy on my feet and my mother said to the doctor, “What do we do? ‘Give him dance lessons.’

She spent much of her childhood in England, living with her father and stepmother. While attending boarding school there, she continued to pursue dance studies and expressed interest in further dance studies. A family friend suggested the Jooss-Leeder School at Dartington Hall, where dancing was taught using Laban notation and where Laban, who was Hungarian, arrived in 1938 after fleeing Nazism. She studied there for three years.

“I was always last in the class” when it came to dancing, since she started later than the other students, she said in a brief film about her life made in 2020, “but I was good for scoring”. Choreographer Kurt Jooss asked him to rate his ballet “The Green Table”.

At 21, she returned to New York to pursue a career as a dancer, and soon she met other supporters of the Laban system. They taught Labanotation to others and built up a library of notated dance works, including ballets by George Balanchine. In 1954 Mrs. Hutchinson Guest published “Labanotation”, an introduction to the system. Balanchine wrote the preface. A fourth edition was published in 2005.

Ms. Hutchinson Guest’s other books include “Your Move: A New Approach to the Study of Movement and Dance”, first published in 1983 and updated with Tina Curran in 2007. In 1967, Ms. Hutchinson Guest established the Language of Dance Center in London promoting the dance teaching methods she developed and bringing movement education to children, with an emphasis on the disadvantaged and those with special needs. In 1997, she and Dr. Curran started a similar organization in the United States.

Mrs. Hutchinson Guest’s marriage in the 1940s to Ricky Trent, a trumpeter she had met while performing in ‘One Touch of Venus’, ended in divorce. She got married Guest Guesta renowned British dance historian, in 1962. He died in 2018. She leaves no immediate survivors.

Mrs. Hutchinson Guest was familiar with other dance notation systems, besides Labanotation, including some developed by well-known choreographers solely for their personal use. One of her most satisfying projects, she said, was working with dance historian Claudia Jeschke to decode the notation system used by Vaslav Nijinsky to record his 1912 ballet, “L’Apres -Midi d’un Faune” (“The Afternoon of a Faun”).

This famous work had been passed down over the years based on the dancers’ recollections, reviews and other secondary sources, but the work of decoding produced a version which Ms. Hutchinson Guest said was closer to what Nijinsky planned. First staged in the 1980s, it featured, among other things, a more active role for the nymphs in the play.

“So many memory-based versions, they’ve lost a lot of what the nymphs did, why they did it,” she said in the film. “I feel Claudia and I were able to bring Nijinsky’s ballet to life the way he intended, and every time we produce it is a joy.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ann Hutchinson Guest, who put the dance on paper, dies at 103
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