Thirty Six Seconds Dance Notation

Based on the project of John Lansdown, the final shape of our project has appeared by adding the fundamental framework of the project ‘Stereo Dance’. First of all, there is a full-size screen divided by ‘36 squares’ which means the total play time ‘36 seconds’ of an extracted piano music as a background sound, from a film made by a BBC documentary in terms of the performance designed by John Lansdown. On the stage, with the music, participants move their body as a dance to a rhythm, and the body movements are captured to 36 images per second for 36 seconds (Figure 1). The dances can be diverse reinterpretations of the music, compared to the performance by ballet dancers 40 years ago, as ordinary people, not professionals. The captured 36 images are distributed to the 36 squares on the screen (Figure 2). Finally, the images on the screen are printed out to enable participants to take it away. This is a whole process of our project which bring out an exploration of a genuine fusion between human imagination and computer procedure based on Lansdown’s work with the fundamental framework of activity theory.

(Figure 1) 36 squares, Test image.

(Figure 2) Prototyping


Stereo Dance

There is an apposite example which is possible to be applied to activity theory like John Lansdown’s notation, and it has included profound inspirations to build his work more meaningfully and refreshingly on the progressive restructure. The title of the project is ‘Stereo Dances’ which is regarding ‘An aurally immersive space for two participants to engage in a dance duet. Two sets of movement instructions were delivered simultaneously to each person through pairs of headphones and designed to create synchronised 3-5minute dance sequence’ in 2004 (Sandiland, 2004). As a result, through the installation, people can create various choreographies by listening to an identical instruction like choreographers in real time (figure 1).


(Figure 1) Stereo Dances (2004). Available at: (Accessed: 22 November 2015).

The project enabled me to have an idea regarding a novel possibility of being able to convert the ‘dance sequences’ of people to ‘dance notations’ visually as well as simultaneously by using computer programming. In an expanded point of view, it is adequate to expand the role of the humans proactively, not passively. In John Lansdown’s experiments, the computer previously generates dance scripts, and dancers ‘follow’ the script. However, before producing the code by the computer, without professional dancers, the public can be a dancer who can generate script themselves. It means ‘the expansion of human imagination’.

Sandiland, N. (2004) Stereo Dances. Available at (Accessed: 2 December 2015).

V&A Research – Activity Theory 03

The computer generated dance script of John Lansdown is properly applied to activity theory. Basically, the subject can match with dancers who do ballet dance, and before having performance, they are well-acquainted with the notation on a paper provided by computer, and interpret between two peaks of the movements (Figure 1) with music as instruments, namely the notation and music. In this respect, audiences as objects watch the show. As a result, these steps for the performance lead to the outcome as having an astonishing and unexpected experience by watching the performance (Figure 2).

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(Figure 1) a sketch material from research curator ‘Simone Gristwood’.

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(Figure 2) The computer-generated dance script of John Lansdown is applied to the first generation of activity theory.

In addition, the formula (Figure 2) can be expand with three elements of the second generation (Figure 3). When the dancers perform with the notations, there are several ‘rules’ to have to do such as keeping following the poses the entire peaks of the movements as well as wearing formal garment of ballet dancers for the performance. Secondly, in terms of ‘community’, in macro level, this is highly important for the outcome on account of the fact that the community in this context embodies a group to be able to form a social consensus, namely formation of sympathy. Ballerinas undoubtedly ought to persuade the precise meaning of the performance and what they want to convey and communicate with the audiences through the collaboration between computer-generated dance script and their dance. Lastly, when it comes to ‘division of labour’, it is plainly classified. Computer generate dance codes on paper, and dancers become proficient at it as well as making dances between the peaks of the movement through much practice. Furthermore, composers flexibly endeavour to compose background music in order to create flawless final performance.

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(Figure 3) The expanded form of figure 2 applied to the second generation.

V&A Research – Activity Theory 02

Activity theory fundamentally has a triangle shape which can effectively explain the core value. Largely, there are two generations except an expanded form of the second generation developed from the 1920s. The first generation established by Lev Vygotsky who a pioneer of Soviet psychological activity theory, consists of three points of the triangle shape: instruments, subject and object (Figure 1). The three points organisationally interact with each other, and an outcome is coming out through the direction of the object (CSAT, nd). Subject specifically represents individual, dyad and group, and the subject has a fusion with instruments, namely tools such as machines, writing, speaking, gesture, architecture, music and so on. Lastly, object embodies motive bringing outcome. To sum it up, for instance, a subject can be an educator who has a responsibility to nurture students as appropriate members of society. In this sense, the object representing motive is for the purpose to support them broaden their horizon such as learning styles of living for their future. Finally, tools such as textbooks, educational visual materials like videos or infographics are used to be able to effectively help the object. As a result, the student educated by the tutor will be suitable members of society through the method of the first generation of activity theory.

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(Figure 1) The first generation of activity theory

The second generation was proposed by Yrjö Engeström who was the Finnish educational researcher based on Leontiev’s framework1 in the 1980s (Figure 2). The generation had an aim to represent social and collective elements by adding the components of community, rules and division of labour. This theory was concentrating on a macro level as the ‘social entities’ (Kaptelinin, nd) in preference to a micro level just focusing on the individual or agent operating with instruments.

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(Figure 2) The second generation of activity theory

    Kaptelinin, V. (nd) Activity Theory. Available at (Accessed: 28 December 2015).

    The Centre for Socio-Cultural and Activity Theory (CSAT). (nd) Models and principles of Activity Theory. University of Bath. The Learning in and for Interagency Working Project.

1. Leontiev provided a clear distinction between object-oriented activity and goal-directed actions. Goal-directed actions are much more temporary in nature and may be a step that subjects take in the process of participating in an object-oriented activity. Goal-directed actions often are individually focused and have less of a collective consequence to the community-based object-oriented activity (Leontiev 1974), and may be a means for individuals or groups of individuals to participate in the object-oriented activity.

V&A Research – Activity Theory 01

In order to comprehend activity theory, we need to look at Human-computer Interaction (HCI) which is covering the theory with other categories. What is HCI? Where does HCI stem from?

In the later 1970s, with the advent of personal computer (PC), everyone was the potential users of PC, and the issue was emerging in terms of the usability of it for people who wanted to use the computer as a tool.

At the end of the 1970s, the wide-ranging task of ‘cognitive science’, which has an interaction of a conceptual framework between the process of management of ‘computer’ and the mental process of ‘human being’, had formed. In addition, there was an endeavour to research ‘cognitive engineering’ which analyse, design and evaluate the complex system between ‘human’ and ‘technology’ (Carroll, nd).

HCI is a part of the research ‘cognitive science’ focusing on ‘interactions’ or ‘interfaces’ between ‘humans’ and ‘computers’ (Figure 1). HCI can be classified as four categories such as user-centred design, activity theory, principles of user interface design and value sensitive design (Figure 2).

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(Figure 1) The defination of Human-comuper Interaction

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(Figure 2) The categories of Human-comuper Interaction

    Carroll, J. (nd) Human Computer Interaction. Available at (Accessed: 22 December 2015).

Core Value of Computer-generated Dance Notation

A paper ‘The Computer in Choreography’ (Lansdown, 1978), provided from the curator, has been including and conveying a significant clue to be able to understand the core value of his project, with some sentences below including relevant keywords.

1. Final outcome could be seen as a genuine fusion between computer procedure and human imagination.
2. It finally appeared that, by devising frameworks which, in some sense, outlined only the important “peaks” of movements rather than the complete movements themselves, I would not only be able to sidestep some of the notational and computational difficulties but also be able to concentrate more on the procedural aspects of composition.
3. In this system the dancer needs to be given, for each peak of movement, the body configuration, the position on stage, and the direction of facing. These can be called the position-wise factors. The time-wise factor is simply the time between one peak and the next measured in beats.
4. She should compose the linking movements between one peak and the next within the constraints of the timewise factor.
5. The computer provides the key-frames and The dancer, the in-betweening.

In this context, the aim can be defined as an exploration of the possibility of the collaboration between ‘computer procedure’ and human ‘imagination’.

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(Figure 1) The Computer in Choreography (Lansdown, 1978)

Computer-generated Dance Script

Dance scripts were automatically generated by computer software set up by his computer programming and were printed out physically on papers (figure 1-2). After this process, he had collaborations and performances with ballet dancers by using the notation (figure 3-4).

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(Figure 1) Landsdown, J. (1978) The Benesh ballet notation, devised by Joan and Rudolph Benesh, portrays in stylistic form all the positions of the dancer’s arms and legs.

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(Figure 2) Lansdown, J. (1978) The Computer in Choreography: Putting a series of Benesh notations from left to right makes a dance script. Each set of simultaneous movements is analogous to a key frame of an animated movie. System Simulation Ltd.

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(Figure 3) Mason, C. (2009) Photograph of R John Lansdown with dancers from the Royal Ballet School rehearsing computer-generated dance notation, 1969. EVA 2009 London Conference.

(Figure 4) Advertisement of the show.