Benesh Movement Notation for Humanoid Robots?
Benesh Movement Notation (BMN) is a written system for analysing and recording human movement. It is a flexible tool that reduces three-dimensional body positions and actions in space over time to a series of two-dimensional key frames. Created in the twentieth century, BMN has been applied to fields as diverse as dance, gymnastics, mime, circus performance, anthropology, ergonomics, neurology, and clinical research. Might it also contribute to research in humanoid robotics? The intention of this paper is to provide the scientist with an introduction to its application across a variety of fields as well as a rudimentary understanding of the Benesh system, so that he may evaluate its potential contribution to robotics research. To that end, this paper explains how BMN conceptualizes movement and provides examples that illustrate how those fundamental concepts have been modified for special purpose projects. Given its demonstrated adaptability, the author is optimistic that the system may be extended through close collaboration between the notation expert and the robotics researcher.
1 The Genesis of Benesh Movement Notation (BMN)
In 1955, Dame Ninette de Valois, dancer, teacher, choreographer and director of the Royal Ballet, announced at a press conference the adoption of the Benesh Movement Notation to record its repertoire as well as the teaching of system at the Royal Ballet School. Soon after, in 1958, BMN was included among the technical scientific discoveries in the British government pavilion at the Brussels world expo.
It was in 1947, that Rudolf Benesh, an accountant and artist with a deep interest in scientific subjects, and his future wife, Joan Rothwell, a dancer with the Royal Ballet, first considered the problems of devising a practical and efficient notation system. From then on, Joan and Rudolf started eight years of collaborative development. “Rudolf quickly set his mind to the problem, directly and indirectly drawing on concept of music, perspective drawings, linguistics and the new scientific disciplines of ergonomics, information theory and cybernetics.” [1, p. 139].
With the appointment of the first Benesh choreologist1 at the Royal Ballet in 1960, the use of BMN by choreographers expanded to the Commonwealth companies, Scandinavian, Germany, then for a short time to the US, and later to France in 1992. Thereby a wide range of choreographic scores has been compiled in different movement styles. The application of BMN to circus aerial acrobatics is just one example of its versatility [2, 3].
Outside the field of professional dance, BMN has been used in various research studies. In ergonomics, it has been used to analyse the movement of operators in front of machinery. In clinical and medical research, it has been used to analyse gait and record the movement of cerebral palsy patients. In anthropological studies, it has been applied to dance traditions of indigenous peoples in Australia and Africa. The system has also been considered for basic animation [4, 5, 6, 7] and more recently for Human Computer Interaction .
2 How BMN Works 
In devising BMN, Rudolf Benesh aimed to create a comprehensive notation system capable of recording all forms of human movement. “Notation is a tool for creative thinking in research and composition. To be a creative tool the notation had to be unlimited in possibilities, and only a pure movement approach would satisfy this need.” (Rudolf and Joan Benesh 1977, p. 6).
2.1 The Concept of Movement
2.2 Transcription of the Concept
This organization of the stave facilitates the analysis and description of postures in time and space, and enables readers to integrate the three elements as a whole.
2.2.1 Body Movement
2.2.2 Movement in Relation to Time
BMN records a sequence of key frames. To specify rhythm and timing, signs are written above the stave as needed to show main beats and sub-beats. A key frame corresponds to a pulse beat unless otherwise specified. In Fig. 10, the sequence consists of a starting position followed by five movements executed on five regular beats.
2.2.3 Movement in Relation to Space
2.2.4 Details of Movement
Soon after the launch of BMN, Joan Benesh met Marianne Balchin, a former member of the Ram Gopal Company. Marianne joined the first graduating class, which also included students of modern dance, folk and national dance, character dance, historical dance, choreographic analysis, ergonomics and medicine. Rudolf and Joan gave students the responsibility for researching their own practice. The team then worked at developing BMN for recording each style, which led to its extension beyond the realm of classical ballet .
3 Specificity of the Benesh System
3.1 Several Layers of Information
3.2 The Information Revealed by Key Frames
3.3 Movement Lines Visualize Path Direct Versus Indirect
4 BMN and Technology
4.1.1 From ChoreoScribe to MacBenesh
ChoreoScribe, developed at the University of Waterloo (UW) Computer Graphics Laboratory in the early 1980s, was the first main frame computer software for creating and editing BMN [11, 12]. Continuing from this project, MacBenesh, the first personal computer software, emerged in 1984 from collaboration between UW and the Ontario Science Centre. The notation consultants were Professor Rhonda Ryman, an expert in Benesh and Laban notation systems, and Robyn Hughes Ryman, Choreologist with the National Ballet of Canada .
MacBenesh, an editor for single-dancer BMN scores, was developed on the Macintosh computer, which offered enhanced graphics capabilities and enabled advanced end-user interface features. It was further developed and commercialized by DanceWrite, until development ceased in 1992. Consequently MacBenesh runs only under Mac OS9. MacBenesh proved helpful to this author in writing the professional course for the Conservatoire de Paris when, with the transition to Mac OS10, she succeeded in importing all the defined Benesh signs into a vector graphics editor.
4.1.2 Benesh Notation Editor
The Benesh Notation Editor (BNE) is a PC Windows software program for creating and editing multi-dancer BMN scores, developed by the Benesh Institute in collaboration with the University of Surrey. It acts as a ‘word processor’ for the notation, enabling the production of quality multi-stave printed scores that can be edited, copied, stored digitally, printed and transmitted by e-mail just like any other file .
The BNE was developed to meet the needs of professional notators, but it may also be useful for notation teachers and students, who may find that they can produce quality scores more easily and quickly than writing them by hand.
4.2 BMN and DanceForms
The resulting product is, however, quite different. In notation, the body is abstracted and it is up to the reader to reconstruct the movement as the eyes move along the score. By contrast, computer animation uses various modes to represent the body, and it is up to the viewer to decrypt the organization of the movement.
The emergence of e-books that blend graphics, writing, images, and movies encourage the use of these medium. The recent iBook, Benesh for Ballet, Book 1, published by Rhonda Ryman and Robyn Hughes Ryman, can only be praised as an example, combining notation, animation, and word description.
5 Adapting BMN for Special Contexts
“Notation is a tool, and it is not an end to itself.” (Rudolf and Joan Benesh 1956, p. 5) To serve a purpose, the system must be flexible for better efficiency.
The above examples show the adaptability of BMN. I was able to build on this flexibility in the following two cases.
In the second case, I collaborated on a research program in the field of Human Computer Interaction. In this case, I applied the adapted stave Rudolf Benesh developed for the 1959 study quoted above (Unpublished notes. Benesh Institute, London, 1959).
The basic principles of BMN allow application by expert notators to a wide range of research problems, provided that each specific adaptation or extension is documented in context.
This paper gives the rudiment of Benesh Movement Notation, which has proved its efficiency in a variety of applications. Considering its application to the robotic field, BMN answers the need to identify key frames on a time line, to show the path of movement and to locate the body in space. It analyses the body scheme and focus on dynamics of movement as well.
To apply BMN to the robotic field, it requires a deep knowledge and that take years. Within the framework of humanoid robot motion, the use of movement notation makes sense in collaboration between the notation expert and the scientist.
Benesh choreologist: A person who is qualified in BMN and is employed to notate and revive works from a choreographic score.
I am extremely grateful to all my Benesh colleagues who left few but essential traces of the genesis and the philosophy of the system. In particular Joan Benesh who drawn up much of her husband unpublished writings in one book which remain a major testimony . Julia McGuinnes-Scott who introduced BMN in medicine, and anthropology in particular , Marguerite Causley, who exposed BMN in physical education . My recognition to the Benesh Institute, and in particular to Liz Cunliffe who gave me access to Rudolf Benesh’s notes and to Adrian Grater who commented them to me.
My thanks also to Rhonda Ryman and Robyn Hughes Ryman, for their proofreading and expertise to the English expression towards the Benesh notation.
- 1.J. McGuiness-Scott, Movement Study and Benesh Movement Notation (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1983)Google Scholar
- 2.K. Wolf, C. Le grand, X.Y. Compagnie, Benesh score, Hector Berlioz Library of the Conservatoire de Paris (2011)Google Scholar
- 3.K. Wolf, Écrire le cirque? La notation du mouvement Benesh pour les arts du cirque, In memento3, Hors les murs (2011)Google Scholar
- 4.R.J. Neagle, K. Ng, R.A. Ruddle, Developing a Virtual Ballet Dancer to Visualise Choreography, In Proceeding of AISB Convention, March–April 2004Google Scholar
- 5.R.J. Neagle, Emotion by Motion: Expression Simulation in Virtual Ballet, Ph.D. thesis, University of Leeds, 2005Google Scholar
- 6.G. Politis, A Translator For Human Movement Notation (University of Sydney, 1989)Google Scholar
- 8.S. Saad, D. De Beul, S. Mahmoudi, P. Manneback, An Ontology for video human movement representation based on Benesh notation, in 2012 International Conference on Multimedia Computing and Systems (ICMCS), May 2012, pp. 77–82Google Scholar
- 9.E. Mirzabekiantz, Grammaire de la notation Benesh (Centre National de la Danse, Paris, 2000)Google Scholar
- 10.R. Benesh, J. Benesh, Reading Dance: The Birth of Choreology (Souvenir Press, London, 1977)Google Scholar
- 11.D. Dransch, J. Beatty, R. Ryman, ChoreoScribe: A Graphics Editor to describe Body Position and Movement Using Benesh Movement Notation (University of Waterloo, 1986)Google Scholar
- 13.R. Ryman, R. Hughes-Ryman, The MacBenesh editor: a “Word Processor” for Benesh notation. Dance Notation J. 4(2), 16–26 (1986)Google Scholar
- 14.Royal Academy of Dance Homepage, The Benesh Notation Editor. http://www.rad.org.uk/study/Benesh/benesh-notation-editor. 2015
- 15.Credo Interactive Homepage, Credo Interactive Inc. DanceForms 2.1. http://charactermotion.com/products/danceforms/. 2015
- 16.P.A. Kember, The Benesh Movement Notation used to study sitting behaviour. Elsevier Appl. Ergon. 7(3), 133–136 (1976)Google Scholar
- 17.P. Simonet, L’hypo-socialisation du movement: prevention durable des troubles musculo-squelettiques chez des fossoyeurs municipaux, Ph.D. thesis, Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, 2011Google Scholar
- 18.M. Causley, An Introduction to Benesh Movement Notation: Its general Principles and its Use in Physical Education (Max Parrish, London, 1967)Google Scholar