How to write down ballet

Let us begin our research with the publication of part of the post by the inquisitive mind of blogger Jazzzzman:

Half of my childhood, all my youth and the main part of my adult life I have pondered over this riddle. Yes. I understand that there are some basic elements – jumps, turns and steps, along with other things such as a simple pas de trois, that can be written down and put in order on a musical grid. But ballet consists of lot of movements which do not fit into a standard scheme! How to write on paper “Small pas de bourees sideways with the legs crossed and the hands held cross-on-cross?” It sounds meaningless, although it immediately brings to mind Swan Lake. Or how to write down The Dying Swan “Here the first leg goes forward, sit down on the second leg, bend hand one upwards, the second forward, the head is a little aside, make an expression of suffering on the face, the left hand goes downwards …” Or how to write down the Sabre Dance? And here all at once – U-u-uh! – and then smash, step-step-step, turn, slash, step-step, turn, smash!”

All the classical ballets were created during an epoch when even on film it was impossible to capture them – and we’re not even speaking about video. So, how does the present generation of choreographers know how a ballet was danced 150 years ago?

People, don’t let me die a fool – please tell me HOW TO WRITE DOWN BALLET

I understand that everyone has their own way, but I suggest an exchange of thoughts to find the most suitable version. Most of us know how to write down positions and movements of dancers on stage, using points and arrows in coordination with the auditorium, but is there a better way to write down movements? Here are some of the best known sources:

Labanotation. Designed for ballet

How it works in simple examples:…

Benesh Institute. The International Centre for Benesh Movement Notation founded in 1962

Example of man’s variation from Giselle

Tango Theory by Manuel Bodirsky. Usable for ballet…

Full solution


Today the methods most widely used by choreographers are Labanotation and Rudolf Benesh’s system. Historically, Russia has long been involved in the research of a universal system of dance notation. At the end of XIXth century a dancer of the Mariinsky Theater, Vladimir Stepanov, started to use the concept of “choreographic notes”. This made it possible to record on paper all most every detail of a ballet and with the Stepanov system most of repertoire staged by M. Petipa at the Mariinsky Theatre has been written down.

After the Russian revolution the Mariinsky Theatre archive was taken out of the country and eventually found a permanent home in the library of Harvard University, which has a collection of research material for the use of specialists in restoring classical ballets. In 1998 Harvard gave the Mariinsky Theatre access to these records (but not permission to publish them) and after a year spent decoding them the ballet loving public could see The Sleeping Beauty in the original version choreographed by the great Petipa.

So, if you study the materials that we have provided about Labanotation and get access to the Harvard archive you can try to become a restorer of the great classical ballets and reveal Petipa’s virgin choreography that has been lost to us through numerous restagings featuring so-called authoritative “completions” and “improvements”.

Following the trail back to the original source is a bit like unraveling the Da Vinci Code……

Ivan Semirechenskiy

Thx to Hemem

P.S. The video about Labanotation has been found

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