Unpublished text The Notated Gesture, by Amoz Hetz

In this article I explore certain aspects of my involvement with dancing and drawing. While writing I realized it took a chronological path, but this is not the way I usually think; my processes of reflection are usually more chaotic, moving in different directions, followed by associations to many different aspects of my life. In short, my artistic activity is mingled with my life. I didn’t find the chronological form entirely appropriate for these two subjects, although writing about them in this way did lead to some discoveries. But I am aware of the many gaps, and would like the reader to bear this in mind.

Parallel to the written word I present images, pictures, drawings and various dance scores. I hope the reader will wander between the images and the written text. I hope this will feed the imagination and provide some insight into my worlds.

I was fascinated by pictures from an early age and spent many hours looking at art books, histories and encyclopedias. I began drawing at the same time. It was clear to me and to the people around me that I would draw, yet I wanted to play music and secretly to dance. At the age of twelve I started playing the piano. I was lucky in having a wonderful teacher. Abraham Daus was a pianist, conductor and composer. As I already knew how to read music he presented me with the bass clef (used for the lower register of the piano, usually played by the left hand) in the first lesson. He wrote a phrase for the two hands and asked me to read the two parts simultaneously. It was a wonderful experience. I felt as if I were in two places at once, as if my head were split into two parts. It took a lot of effort, but a great joy ran through my whole body as well. It was an experience I couldn’t forget, and from then on it became a real passion. Soon after that Daus left, and for a long time I played without a teacher.

Drawing had come to me very easily, and I did it as much as I could. Figures appeared in the margins of my exercise books as I listened to the lessons at school. Growing up on a kibbutz I had many opportunities to decorate the many holidays we celebrated. At Pesach I loved illustrating the Haggadah. I could put all my delight in moving bodies into it. I also did larger paintings to decorate the kibbutz dining room for all the high holidays.

At the same age I discovered folk dancing and began practicing intensively. There was a lot of dancing at all the celebrations. Dancers from the big city came to the kibbutz and put dance scenes together, in the tradition of Ausdruckstanz. The girls had weekly dance classes and I wanted to join them, but the teacher said it was only for girls, they only took boys for the performances. On Fridays, when we did folk dancing, I was very passionate, almost possessed, and danced the whole evening without stopping.

At teacher-training college I studied movement, dance and painting. In the second year I attended the visual-art school and joined classes in the professional movement department. A year later I discovered Noa Eshkol. A few years previously I had heard about her invention of the Eshkol-Wachman movement notation (EWMN) and I knew she was teaching at the Chamber Theatre school, but seeing a performance by her had left me very puzzled. A year later, to my great surprise, I was completely taken by her work and couldn’t understand how I had “missed” it the year before.

It was a profound encounter for me, and not long afterwards I began studying with her. But two months later she left for Europe to publish her first book (Movement Notation, 1958). In the meantime I went to study with Moshe Feldenkrais. This was also a very intriguing, deep, refining experience; it put some order into the movement knowledge I had gained from Lotte Kristeler and the other teachers at the teacher-training college. When Noa returned I continued studying with her. At the same time I was earning my living from teaching painting and working as a graphic artist, including illustrating two children’s books. I stopped painting, however. My main interest was dance and movement notation. I knew I had found my calling.

After a few years of studying with Noa I felt ready to enter the professional world, but I was suddenly faced with a severe crisis of body and mind. I stopped dancing and drawing. I could hardly keep up my teaching duties; inside I was lost. This forced me to look for ways of overcoming this crisis. I did various physical therapies and began a process of psychoanalysis.

I gradually found my way back to dance and painting. The first big change was in my drawing. I began again in a very physical way, searching for my own handwriting with very simple brushstrokes in Indian ink. I kept this exercise as a daily routine, making large strokes with the brush and caring more about the gesture than the visual result. The result was like calligraphy without the letters.

At the same time I was continually listening to my body. I followed a daily movement routine and spent a lot of time on the floor before raising up to other bases (sitting, crawling, walking). From my many previous studies of movement I gradually built up a routine and regained my body confidence, becoming aware of the connections between the spine, limbs and weight.

At the same time I received an offer to teach the Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation (EWMN) at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. I followed Noa’s example from the start and taught the basic concepts of the notation by giving the students composition assignments, later also adding movement lessons. And soon I began extensively composing dances with the notation. Not long afterwards I began extensively composing dances with the EWMN. For a long time I was busy with gestures: mainly steps, jumps and turns. The movement classes were my laboratory, and I applied my movement experiences and my compositional interests. These were connected to the EWMN and basically to the idea of the manuscript page, which represents each limb with a separate space. I offered steps and phrases and did many variations on a single phrase. I relied on the wonderful examples of my teachers Noa Eshkol and Moshe Feldenkrais, and also included my experience of the Alexander technique. This was my new start, but I knew that I had to find my own answers to many basic questions concerning both teaching movement and composing dances.

My first compositions were phrases of steps, to which I later added the torso and the arms. The basic spine configurations were clear, but the subtile influence of the steps and arm gestures on the spine was a very puzzling question.

The arms are the instruments with the widest range of movement, and the precise definition of the EWNM gave me endless ways to construct arm gestures through combinations of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. I was intrigued and captivated by this, but only much later was I able to understand the relationship of it to the spine and body weight. I gave preference to the compositional possibilities the notation as a system offered me, while the wider connections between all the parts of the body only began to reveal themselves much later – through learning the dances myself and teaching them to a small group of performers.

Parallel to this my daily drawing routine was expanding. Brush and paper were larger. Forms began to emerge, which I followed, and I also began to include colour.

The dancers in the group were all ex-students of mine. All of them could read and write the notation. Every gesture was written first, and once I had finished composing a dance I brought the score to the group and we learned it one phrase at a time, danced it and later performed it in front of an audience.

With every new composition I became more confident and happier with the results. Yet at the same time, through teaching and performing them I realized that there were certain aspects of the dance that I couldn’t imagine or compose beforehand. The first of these that confronted me was the issue of time. At this stage I used a metronome to keep the beat and synchronize the dancers. But I stopped using it when I became dissatisfied with the mechanical division of time and wanted to listen to my more refined needs. I began to learn to feel the beat and to let the other dancers experience it, allowing each one of us the flexibility of being slightly out of the beat or entering it in our own time. This process of each individual listening to how he or she put the gesture and phrases together gave the dancers the freedom and responsibility to dance them as their own selves. It also gave me more flexibility as a choreographer, allowing the dancers to follow their own individual needs. Later this enabled me to define the duration of each gesture more accurately, and to be aware of the small movement unities between gestures; to listen more to what happens before moving, and after finishing a gesture to sense a position as an active state. As a result I had a unique group of individual personalities. All this also gave me the courage to be less precise with the gestures – to plan them and write them down, but to leave them open to changes.

With my solo dances Touching the Wind and Following Socrates I began composing in a different way, using the notation as a scaffolding for the gestures but leaving the inner organization of each gesture and the connection between the gestures much more open. By performing these dances I became aware of these small changes, some of which I could define and notate, while others I left obscure or changed with each repetition of the dance.

Finding the strength of the brushstrokes, and trusting and following my arm, I took a new step: I began drawing in sketchbooks. Every page was a new encounter with the paper and meant facing the unknown. From simple strokes, forms emerged without my planning them. I kept adding brushstrokes to the paper, being very careful not to overload it, and then went on to the next page. In a way it was the opposite of composing a dance, respecting the act and accepting the traces left behind. Looking back through the sketchbooks I could see that each session created a series; each was its own world.

I continued practicing the two disciplines – dance and drawing – in parallel, yet very separate.

Through my studies with Noa Eshkol I became aware of the phenomenon of simultaneous movement. According to the EWMN each limb produces a path of circular movement within the sphere around a joint, and the result of several limbs moving together is very rich and complex. As I mentioned above an early key experience was playing the piano, with each hand doing a different task to create the wonder of music. This fascinated me, and I had the sense that it contained a secret of my attraction to dance.

In the late 1960s Noa Eshkol was very involved with simultaneous movement. She spent a year at the University of Illinois researching the phenomenon and brought back her the first drawings produced with a plotter, a computer device for printing vector graphics. These drawings were made by feeding the computer with movement instructions for several limbs, each one defined separately, but all moving simultaneously. The results were very unexpected and complex. It was and still is a wonderful visualization of movement. Very much like Leonardo, Eadweard Muybridge, Étienne-Jules Marey and Norman Mclaren, a real leap in the same direction. When I saw it I was completely taken by it, as it created a bridge between the analytical approach of the notation and the real essence of movement. It brought movement and drawing close together, and intensified my own dialogue between the two.

As I mentioned before, pictures were always very stimulating to me. I feel that following an image is working on the totality of my imagination; the image is imprinted in my memory and I can rely on it. Confronted by the plotter drawings I felt directly connected, through the visual, to movement, and as such it was a great stimulus to me. I treasured it and waited for an opportunity to investigate it in action.

From the 1990s onwards I composed more and more solo dances, and at the same time launched into a new form of composition for groups of dancers. This arose from the fact that I had gained a great respect for the personal interaction between dancers and felt the need to bring dancers who understood this together. However, creating dances with the EWMN had deeply involved me with written movement scores, but also with the fact that very few dancers are trained to be able to read the notation. So this led me to creating scores in which only certain aspects of the movement were defined and the rest was left to the creativity of each dancer.

I created scores for specific divisions of time and asked each dancer to fill them in and create his or her own role (Vexations, Noises, Astrology). I got bolder with each composition and added more defined aspects and rules. Here are some short descriptions of these projects:

Marvadim (Carpets). Each dancer was asked to compose a five-minute dance with three variations in different speeds – slow, regular and very fast – and in three different spaces – on the spot, half the stage, whole stage. The score contains solos, duets, trios, quartets and quintets, and lasted 45 minutes.

Elements (earth, air, fire, water). Each dancer was asked to make four dances, one from the image of each element. We performed them in different elemental combinations.

Four Poems. I chose poems in Hebrew, German, Russian and Arabic, and with the composer Kiki Keren Huss looked for translations of them in each of the other languages, plus English. Kiki recorded the poems, read by different people, and then created a sound-poetry piece. Four dancers were given this and the poems to create one dance each. Coming together we had to find a way of superimposing our roles.

Traces. Four dancers were given John Cage’s Score Without Parts (40 Drawings by Thoreau) Twelve Haiku, and each created twelve dances of about two minutes each. From these we created duets, trios and two quartets.

The dialogue between analyzing movement in detail with the EWMN and listening to the gesture as a whole has continued over the years. After fifteen years of keeping separate attitudes towards the creation of my solo dances and the scores for collective dance, I came to the point of applying the lessons I had learned from the group scores to my solos as well. In 2007 I had the idea for a project to directly explore the relationship between drawing and dancing. This project had three stages. I worked on each one for a long time and then performed it.

In the first stage I drew, and when I’d finished Yael Cnaani (a colleague of mine who is also a dancer and painter) created a dance in response. Then she drew and I danced to her drawing. After covering eight panels our drawing-dance was over.

In the second stage I carried out the two actions alternately, drawing and then dancing.

For the third stage I made thirty drawings to the music of John Cage – Thirty Pieces for String Quartet. Then I “composed” thirty dance miniatures from my drawings. But now the image wasn’t present on stage; I kept it in my mind.

All three dances were based on drawing an image and then dancing it. The pieces are an outcome of two actions of the moving body: the first, the gesture executed by the hand, forearm and arm, coordinated by the eye to produce an image; the second, the absorption of the image, keeping it in mind, following it in movement, letting the movement of the whole body produce the dance.

In the first piece, in which I asked a fellow dancer to join me, there were two different challenges: the dancers didn’t know beforehand what images would be produced or what their reactions to them would be. While carrying out these two tasks we learned that each of us processed them differently; drawing and reading the images were done in different ways.

In the next dance I performed the two different tasks myself, first drawing and then dancing, and here I was called upon to forget that in a few minutes I would need to dance what I was drawing; to concentrate on the quality of the gesture, as I did in my sketchbooks. After a while I established a set of images from which I chose one to draw (always different from the way it is held in the mind) and then interpret in movement. In this way the process became more like an open-ended score for drawing and dancing.

For the third piece I danced a sequence of drawings, translating the image into gestures in different parts of my body while keeping each image in mind and the set as a whole. While rehearsing it I went from one drawing to another, from one dance to another, returning to repeat them into clarity.

The next projects took me back to an old love of mine – maps. Maps, in a way, are a sum total of the human experience of wandering through space. Maps are the bases and scores for our exploration of the environment – from nearby, in our immediate neighborhood, to far-off travels. Here too the EWMN gave me an instrument to create the floor pattern of my dances. For a long period I had drawn a map of my traveling at the end of each day. I realized that my memory was very selective, as parts of my movements were erased from my mind, and it took some time to bridge the gap between two places I remembered having been in. Parts of my last two dance projects are based on maps of the different places I and the other dancers have lived in. The movement was created by moving from one position on the map to another. This confronted us with our different biographical paths, which had sometimes been in parallel, sometimes at odds. The result was a very complex score which created the magic that connected us. This opened up a new aspect in my group compositions: although each dancer moved in his or her own orbit, we shared a common attitude towards the space and created continually different relationships between us. Here again was the phenomenon of simultaneous movement on a plane, but between different people.

Do I know what this is all about?

I know that I have two different desires: the need to compose dances and a passion for images.

I need to expand my sense of movement, to follow the orchestration that happens while I move, and the other people around me. I recognize the different limb-instruments taking part in this. I feel privileged to have the EWMN and the confrontation with the manuscript page that provides me with the means to compose dances.

On the other hand I had always gained deep satisfaction from drawing, and from an early age derived much comfort from pictures, which enchanted me and led me into daydreams, but it was only years later that I found my own way to make images, by listening to the gesture and not controlling it through the eyes; to let the movement guide it and the memory to create the maps. This gave me the trust to dive into the wide sea and swim in it.

It was only once I was able to open up the dance scores and to trust my gesture in drawing that I found a way of doing these two activities, drawing and dancing, together. It is now clear to me that I need the two aspects of the process: the very formal and analytical, and the freedom to read the form in a fresh way each time I dance it – being open to the blank page and letting the gesture create the signs on the paper without any preconceived image.

This meandering between action and waiting, between gesture and drawing, between the image and its evaporation, still haunts me, I am looking forward to new projects growing out of these two languages, and to the new forms they will reveal.

Jerusalem 31.3.2010

Scores and graphics selected and annotated by Amos Hetz

A score of one of my first dances from the beginning of the 1973

The numbers stand for the direction of the steps of the right and left leg. The lower space represents the front of the the body.

The floor patterns of the steps of the score above.