The Art of Choreology.

Posted by on 08.05.2010

While in rehearsal today for “Lillies” (or Juliet’s bridesmaids) from John Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Choreologist Jane Bourne pulled out her notes on the choreography.  As I saw the notebook in front of her, I noticed that she was reading what appeared to be sheet music.  In my experiences, repetiteur’s setting a ballet, usually use scribbles committed to paper to help them remember the steps, patterns, and details.  It seems as if everyone has their own system and it is legible only to the author.  Thus, these neatly organized notations peaked my interest.

I had heard people refer to Ms. Bourne as a “choreologist,” but I was just assuming that this was the fabulous European term for “someone who sets ballets for a living.”  But in fact, her title has a very specific meaning, referring entirely to the notes before her.

A choreologist is an expert in Benesh Movement Notation. This system was created in the 1940’s by Joan and Rudolf Benesh and is used to document any form of movement the human body has to offer.  The notation is oriented on a five line stave (similar to sheet music) which serves as a reference to the music’s relation to the steps.  The five horizontal lines represent different parts of the body: head, shoulders, waist, knees, and floor.  Upon these lines will be dots, dashes, and other symbols used to represent how the body will move as well as the quality the steps should have.

The Royal Academy of Dance is affiliated with the Benesh Insitute, which educates individuals in Benesh Movement Notation.  Over 1,700 works have been translated to Benesh in order to accurately pass on choreography from dancer to dancer, company to company, and generation to generation.  Many companies rely on videos in order to document choreography, which sometimes can prove to be problematic.  A video is a documentation of one performance, by one company, where the choreography may have already been tweaked.  With Benesh Notation, each movement, down to every small detail, is documented with upmost care and accuracy.
I am so excited to learn more from Jane Bourne and her Benesh notes.  I find it so fascinating that human movement can be documented on paper in such a thorough way.


  1. Really? Where will I be able to find your study??? This concept is so interesting to me, and I really want to learn more about it!

  2. How timely. I am working on an in depth study of this fascinating subject.

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