攝 Photo: Lee Wai Leung @ Worldwide Dancer Project
在短暫的當下中創造的頃刻──表演藝術製作不僅讓我們能夠探索自己的身份和藝術聲音 （artistic voice），還可作為對社會問題反思、討論及提高意識的渠道；倘若沒有完整的記錄，這一切就會逐漸流失。
較早前我參與了由國際演藝評論家協會（香港分會）及香港話劇團聯合主辦的網絡研討會「有一種未來叫紀錄──表演藝術紀錄與發表國際交流會」，我對捷克的Arts and Theatre Institute的全面整存工作印象深刻──她不但擁有實體檔案庫和網上數據庫，更積極參與其他合作及諮詢工作。我亦受到澳門劇場文化學會以其館藏策展主題展覽所啟發，策展主題例如肺炎疫情下「被取消的」製作及展示90年代劇場作品的場刊等。
在構思擬議的檔案庫時，我了解到作品紀錄不僅只是儲存如演出錄影的原始資源，還涉及如何將知識提煉後傳給後世──通過保存藝術遺產（artistic legacy）、累積智慧資本（intellectual capital）、為將來重演（restage）或重新詮釋（reinterpretation）作品提供全面的參考，以及為未來的藝術史學家建立研究基礎。
作為班尼斯譜舞師（Benesh choreologist）和排練指導，我有幸以班尼斯動作譜（Benesh Movement Notation, BMN）與不同類型的表演藝術團體合作，輔助排練、記錄和重演製作。Rudolf和Joan Benesh在1950年代創建了BMN這個用作記錄舞蹈的系統，自此常用於歐洲、英國和美國的芭蕾舞團來協助排練、記錄新作及進行重演。在香港這高度電子化的舞蹈行業中，許多人認為演出錄影已足以作為重演參考，並對舞譜的需求提出了質疑。
我在伯明翰皇家芭蕾舞團擔任學生譜舞師的見習工作期間，以紀錄製造及管理者的身份為舞團的檔案庫增添了手寫舞譜，亦為舞團重排作品選段。但是，基於在香港作為自由身工作者的難處，如要同時參與多個製作，並時而在排練時為表演者代缺，遺憾地在我的譜舞師生涯中，只曾為於香港舉行的Genée 國際芭蕾舞比賽 2018，由白家樂（Carlo Pacis）所創作的兩支獨舞製作過完整舞譜紀錄。然而，我也不時有與一舖清唱（下稱「一舖」）廣泛合作的機會，為演唱者記錄舞台調度 （staging）、協助排練及時而在排練中代缺。
舞譜草稿 Working score for Genée／攝 Photo: Chi Wai Cheung @ hiro graphics
在準備2019年為香港小交響樂團重排《小城大兵的故事 ─ 魔鬼回歸》的演出時，我從以往不同場次的演出錄影中學習了該作品以作比較，最終以方便排練為目的而製作了一個相對完整，但非傳統的舞譜。考慮到排練時間非常有限，以及要消化史特拉汶斯基（Stravinsky）的音樂這些額外挑戰，我的舞譜聚焦在預計有助排練的微小細節上，例如舞者之間的關係和接觸點、創作意圖和編導要求的舞台調度、道具的走位、可識別的音樂提示等，而所有資料必須能夠高效而方便地查閱。
為《小城大兵的故事 ─ 魔鬼回歸》製作的變化版本舞譜／照片由鄧曉霖提供
除了在表演藝術行業中的應用外，物理治療師也有將BMN用於臨床應用，作為記錄患者的康復進度，人類學家亦會用作分析工具；但最常應用到BMN的，仍然是芭蕾舞行業，因為它的系統是根據芭蕾舞的風格、要求、慣用技巧和審美而採用了既定的前設，例如當沒有特別指定，腿一定是完全轉開（turn out），而離開地面的腳定必是完全伸直及繃腳尖（fully stretched）。
 「《重返《梁祝學堂》》與舞蹈網絡教學」的研究進展由董言以劇場構作的身分記錄，詳閱可瀏覽以下網址： https://bit.ly/35DGdiE
Observation and practical application – an empirical discourse on dance archiving by a Benesh choreologist
Text: Iris Tang
Transience created in the very ephemeral present, performing arts productions not only allow artists to explore their identity and artistic voice, they can also act as a channel to reflect, discuss and raise awareness on social issues; all of which would be lost as a fleeting moment if not for comprehensive documentation.
A Future Called Documentation – International Exchange On Performing Arts Documentation, a webinar co-presented by the International Association of Theatre Critics (Hong Kong) and Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, was an enlightening experience. I was impressed with the holistic archival work by the Arts and Theatre Institute in the Czech Republic, which includes both physical archives and online database among other cooperation and consultation work. I am also inspired by how the Macao Theatre Culture Institute have curated their archival collection as thematic exhibitions, for example looking at performances lost during the pandemic and showcasing house programmes from the 1990s.
Both institutes have targeted the preservation and dissemination of cultural resources, a similar focus to that of my recent MA dissertation on the development of an operational model for a Performing Arts Production Archive in Hong Kong along with its potential and challenges.
In considering my proposed archive, I have learnt that documenting productions is not only about storing raw information such as archival video of performances, but passing on processed knowledge to generations to come – by preserving artistic legacy, accumulating intellectual capital, providing holistic references for restaging or reinterpretation as well as developing research bases for future arts historians.
In order to achieve a comprehensive documentation that serves all these purposes, the cultural resources archived should not only be tangible items but also intangible legacies and embodied knowledge such as recording origination, rationale, choreographic intention, artistic decisions and methodology. There should be an active engagement in discourse together with innovative outreach initiatives, thus embracing the true value of documentation, which is the accumulation, production, association and inheritance of knowledge.
Benesh Movement Notation in production documentation
As a Benesh choreologist and rehearsal mistress, I have the privilege of rehearsing, recording and restaging productions with performing arts companies in different genres, through using Benesh Movement Notation (BMN). BMN is a system created by Rudolf and Joan Benesh in the 1950s to record movement. It is commonly used by ballet companies in Europe, the UK and the USA to assist rehearsals, record new works and restage existing ones. In Hong Kong, many people question the need for notation in what is a highly digitalized industry, arguing that archival videos are a sufficient reference when restaging productions.
However, archival video of performance may not offer the best execution or representation of the work; none of the essence such as choreographic intention is recorded in such video and restaging a work starting from a clean slate – from the skeleton of the piece along with devising details instead of from a performance video – gives the most artistic room for developing one’s own interpretation. No-one would expect an orchestra to rehearse a piece by listening to a previous recording, but rather to interpret the original score. Documentation with language to pass on knowledge is a primal practise for all civilizations – dance notation, no matter which system is used, is the alphabet of a language that speaks dance.
During my work placement with Birmingham Royal Ballet as a student notator, I was able to contribute my hand-written score to its archives as a record maker, keeper and stager. However, due to constraints as a freelancer in Hong Kong, where I work on multiple productions at a time and also substituting spots in rehearsals, regrettably the only ballet pieces I was able to fully document were two solos by Carlo Pacis created for The Genée International Ballet Competition 2018 in Hong Kong. On the other hand, during my career, I have worked extensively with Yat Po Singers (“Yat Po”) in documenting stagings for singers, assisting with rehearsals and sometimes substituting staging spots.
Given the unique nature of a cappella theatre productions, some bodily movement stems from natural groove or improvisation with specific structure, so while detailed notation on movement may not be helpful, the choreographic intention, with accurate notes on timing and expression, are essential. This means that my biggest focus may be on some of the smallest details, such as which hand is holding the hand-held microphone; whether a “hand-held” microphone or “clip-mic” is used; when and how singers raise or lower the microphone; when they give musical notes in their earpiece as pitch reference starting a song; set/prop/singers staging; linking script to movement with precision in terms of intention and timing (for example, whether a movement is done on a specific word or throughout a sentence); as well as choreographic decisions on maintaining unison or allowing individual freedom.
In addition to my documenting work, I also give rehearsal notes, substitute spots and keep absent singers informed of new material. Throughout, one of the greatest challenges I faced was tracing the whereabouts and formation of the chorus of 50 students and the ten Yat Po performers in Rock Hard (Re-Run) while functioning efficiently. Following on from this, I will share my experience in production documentation for rehearsal purposes using BMN.
Restaging with BMN – details and intention
Conventionally, for a BMN master score, notation is written single-sided on 5-line stave paper much like a music score. Notes, with updated and analysed versions of the notation are written on the blank facing page. The score is read from left to right, top to bottom and with markings referring to the corresponding section of music for easier communication with the musician or the conductor in rehearsal.
In preparing the restaging of A Soldier’s Story 5.0 - The Devil Returns for Hong Kong Sinfonietta in 2019, I learnt the piece by watching and comparing several past performance videos and eventually produced a relatively complete yet unconventional notation score for rehearsal purposes. Given a very limited rehearsal time plus the additional challenge of working with Stravinsky’s complex music, I had my notation focus on the tiniest details that could be most helpful, such as relationships and contact points between dancers, intention and the desired picture, the whereabouts of props and identifiable musical cues; bearing in mind that all information needed to be accessed with efficiency and ease.
For this restaging, I invented a modified version of BMN for my convenience – a combination of terminology and signs as well as a simplified layout for multi-person contact.
Similarly, I also restaged a section in Hua-Yen Sūtra 4.0 - Purification Practices for Zuni Icosahedron in 2017, learning the staging from performance video and the original script. Unlike A Soldier’s Story, the challenge here was to trace the staging of four performers in the video and figure out their relationship with each other in terms of the script-to-blocking linkage – i.e. to see the whole picture. Fortunately the restaging was done by the choreographer and the original cast so they were able to confirm my speculations on intention, reminding them of their relationship as well as making sense of the staging instead of merely executing required blocking; otherwise the speculation would have remained unconfirmed given the absence of comprehensive documentation.
Limitations of BMN and other alternatives
In addition to its application in the performing arts industry, BMN is also used by physiotherapists for clinical applications – to record the rehabilitation progress of patients – as well as by anthropologists as an analytical tool. However, it is still most commonly used in the ballet industry as certain customary techniques and aesthetic preferences are assumed according to balletic stylistic requirements, such as legs being fully turned out or feet being fully stretched when leaving the floor unless specified otherwise.
In this context, working on rehearsals for Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom by Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin Charitable Foundation Limited posed a huge challenge in terms of the specific stylized schooling of Chinese Dance when I was notating the group dance movement of 20 performers. Apart from jumping in to substitute different spots when needed, notating Chinese Dance without an “assumption system” for the schooling like the one which exists for ballet makes it extremely challenging – a simple “orchid” (蘭花指) hand gesture required a great deal of analytical effort, let alone the common “pan shou” (盤手), “yun shou” (雲手) and “xiao wu hua” (小五花) along with very specific musicality.
There is also the question of how and why we document a piece with notation. BMN is more developed and adaptive in notating contemporary ballet or modern dance – even for cartwheels, upside down movement, contraction, isolation and all types of rolling – than it is for Chinese Dance.
Although there are signs for props notation, further deliberation would be required to apply and adapt the system to notating the Sleeve Dance (水袖舞), particularly in order to convey the visual manifestation of the shape and image the sleeve is projecting, and I was unable to devise a system fully adapted to doing this.
However, for dance genres with a more intrinsic drive such as GAGA or improvisation, in which the emphasis is on self-awareness and moving according to the rhythm of the dancer’s own body, the exact movement is most unlikely to be recreated by another body. Thus, although BMN can notate the shape of such instinctive movement, this may be deemed to defeat the rationale – stripping the essence of its impetus. Consequently, if this kind of work is to be restaged, other forms of documentation could be considered as a stimulus, such as imagery and text.
In creating the piece Jump to Mars, Dance with Me by Unlock Dancing Plaza, Ong Yong-Lock invited me to record their devising process with text for their reference in subsequent discussions. The rehearsals were mainly structured improvisation, often motivated by audio stimulation – sound or music produced by Lawrence Lau and questions from KT Yau.
My text would record the task they set and describe the improvisation content (movement) along with my personal interpretation as well as the team’s reflections afterwards. Reading how an outside observer documented their improvisation gave them the opportunity to re-experience it with the added scope of another perspective – almost like an audience review after each private viewing, which could be a possible function for dance archiving.
Existing dance archiving practices in Hong Kong
The practice of dance archiving in Hong Kong is still developing and is subject to experimentation using different approaches – there is no single model which fits all cases. That said, an important reference is the truly remarkable piece by Dong Xianliang – Repressed Words and Renovated Bodies: The Extended Version of Requiem HK, in which he describes and analyses the origins, methodology, choreographic intention of the pieces as well as his own personal thoughts from a dramaturg’s point of view.
Another exceptional endeavour in dance archiving is a much anticipated ongoing project – an educational restaging or reinterpretation of Butterfly Lovers. It features students from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and is led by three rehearsal mistresses, Sylvia Lee, Jennifer Mok and Ivy Tsui, who were part of the original devising cast in 2006. Conducting rehearsals with the original devising methodology, teaching excerpts from the piece, creating new tasks with a specific educational focus and creating reinterpreted sections truly embodies authentic preservation and I encourage readers to keep following this outstanding project.
 A short demonstration of Benesh Movement Notation score can be found on the Benesh International website (https://www.royalacademyofdance.org/benesh-international-benesh-movement-notation/): https://media.royalacademyofdance.org/media/2019/02/26144126/BMNscore1.pdf
 Dong Xianliang. Repressed Words and Renovated Bodies: The Extended Version of Requiem HK. (https://bit.ly/38JbJhc)
 Dong Yan has been recording the research progress for the restaging or re-interpretation project on Butterfly Lovers as the research dramaturg. Further updates can be found here: https://bit.ly/35DGdiE.
MA in Arts and Cultural Enterprise, currently a Benesh choreologist and rehearsal mistress.