Systems of Movement

Lisa Homburger
9 min readJun 22, 2020


The Act of Thinking as the Act of Doing.

Like most systems language is as arbitrary as they come. We are tempted to believe in the rigidity of systems — be it political, technical or even philosophical systems — because relying on the stability of them makes us feel good. What we tend to overlook is that all our systems are created by humans, even mathematics — numbers are a human invention. Rigidity therefore is nonsense, as is the belief that meaning is always a fixed parameter. But what systems generally do is enable communication by creating a sense, using language in its widest definition, and enabling a flow between stability and instability, or between understanding and misunderstanding. This flow is where profound things can happen: innovations, revelations and creations — all because of a human’s ability to understand or misunderstand a system — and the possibilities are endless. Successful communication is making sense of a system reciprocally, influencing and being influenced. Hence, misunderstandings can also be successful forms of communication in a way that there is a shared sense about them. And communication is not only limited to humans: any analogue matter can be an actor within a system and respond and make sense in unpredictable ways. This makes it all the more fascinating to explore these reciprocal communications between actors; an always flowing exchange. A multiplicity in the Deleuzian sense, denouncing the One/Many theory and instead embracing the idea of a structure which does not reference unity. Yet another made-up system, but a useful one for the purpose of this text. It is refusing singular symbolisation and the use of (verbal) descriptions to create unique phenomena. Thus, it is about the relation of signs to one another and to the body, where they form endless possibilities of unrealised combinations. There is a freedom to the abandonment of the One and the Many and a potential for this lack of fixed parameters to be a state of creativity and free-flowing potential.

When I first started to explore the system of movement language I was mainly focussing on challenging the idea of a universal language of movement — a system that was claiming to be rigid and naturally available to all humans. There is no such thing as a universal language, every system we use in order to communicate is based on arbitrary meanings which were assigned by humans for other humans — thus these meanings are also being passed on by humans. A knowledge which needs to be acquired in order to communicate within our systems of society. There is no higher order to those systems. We all experience and understand movement differently, even if we assign the same verbal descriptions to it. No human sensation is identical. Rather than seeing conditioned meanings and identity, systems propose a construct which calls for a wider range of thinking. So accepting that movement language is just as fluid of a system as any other is the first step. This opens the door to great possibilities, to what Tomas Lehmen calls “communicative flow”. If movement is not a rigid system then choreographies should not be put in front of audiences assuming that they will just make sense. To sustain a feeling of imagination the human brain needs to be engaged in a way which allows for its active involvement with the matter — communicative flow. It could be said that choreographers propose a certain kind of knowledge through their choreographies. A knowledge of their own system of movement where meanings are being assigned and movement makes sense. Performing those choreographies can be seen as an attempt to pass on this specific knowledge to an audience — whether or not this succeeds is a different question. In this context the system of multiplicity can be useful as a tool against standstill choreography, where bodies move on stage but nothing actually moves. Where One means Many and the other way around and where “anything goes” but communication merely flows in one direction.

The development of graphic scores for movements and excerpts of choreographies came out of a personal need to visualise those thoughts on paper. Very intuitively, it became my attempt to capture the specific knowledge of a choreography and place it from the body on to the paper. This process naturally is a very abstract one and even though it is influenced and informed by many other systems of movement notation, the intent was never to map out exact instructions for a future reproduction of a choreography but rather to communicate movement through a different medium. The first scores were less a manual and more a trace of something.

To achieve a visual and imaginative experience of movement, my system of scoring had to carry the right amount of information for it to set a scene without being overly explanatory or overly ambiguous. As in the mapping of a landscape, the inclusion of an index and explanatory textual paragraphs add to the process of communication between the scores and the imagination. They are a “way in” — the little push to go down the rabbit hole, creating an imaginary world of movement for an audience to experience their body as a dancing body, a body they might have never felt like this before. The imagination can take us places the body cannot. Mostly this journey of the mind is reserved for music and literature, movement is usually a spacial experience. Scoring movement removes this fixed parameter of a body moving in space and invites a more open approach to the matter.

Since a drawing of movement can only capture a planar motion within a certain time frame and rhythm — What? When? For how long? — leaving out the spacial depth a choreography usually has, textual components describing the spatiality both in space and on the body — Where? — and the quality of the movement — How? — add tremendously to the understanding of the scores. Systemising movement language therefore creates room for communication and shared creativity, allowing for the body and the brain to experience movement in various ways, potentially ways which were not thought or executed before.

Do the scores animate you to move or do they simply trigger images in your head? Maybe you see numbers, or colours or nothing at all, but it is happening in your imagination and engaging your own creativity; extremely personal while flowing freely in space. Taking on a proposed system and communicating with it, sharing and interacting with it — that’s what language is and what communicative flow is about. We do this every day with so many different systems without realising. Scoring movement is an attempt to reduce the status of the One, the choreographer, and to share agency with the audience. A multiplicity. Less-representation and more open questions.

Obviously, the idea not to spoon-feed your audience and to avoid the numb pleasures of spectacle is not new within the performing arts. But what I am doing with my movement scores is challenging the spectator to let movement happen in stillness, in silence, in places where movement can often be overlooked. To take on the knowledge of a system of movement and communicate with it — to make it personal. It is a resistance against one sided communication through movement, the one that shuts out the input from the audience and denies their natural urge to interact (but don’t mistake this kind of interaction with asking an audience to clap along to the music — which really is more of a reaction than an interaction). Making creation a form of communication turns it into a free-flowing system with fluid parameters.

Scoring movement is also connected to a personal belief that scripture can be inspired by a multiplicity which — drawing parallels to jewish Kabbala — exceeds the sense and the symbolism of the scores. This is where it gets very abstract and it might seem like I am proposing riddles. The problem with riddles is that they usually demand to be solved, implying again, that there is one answer, which is precisely what I am aiming to oppose. There is no “wrong”, ergo there is no “right” either. Inspired scripture can refer to a scripture with the potential of giving life in both a mystical and an actual sense. It is a kabbalistic system of belief which enables communication between what is written and spiritual or physical experiences. Rather than proposing riddles I want to engage with the mystery of scripture, rejecting “one solution” orientated approaches and to promote a level of ambiguity. The communicative flow between the scripture — the movement scores — and the spectator destabilises the lines not only between choreographer and audience, but also between audience and performer. Those rigid roles suddenly become fluid and almost arbitrary. Who is interpreting who?

Scoring movement opens the space for a new way of engaging with the work of other choreographers and raises questions about processes of reproduction as well as authorship. Graphic movement scores, by their abstract nature, will never lead to an exact reproduction of the choreography or movement sequence they are based on (and shouldn’t have to). I am constantly questioning what it is these scores capture. The search for an answer is part of my practice and an essential part of my work. It is clear that the scores mean different things to different people, for example recognising a choreographic work you have seen before completely changes the way you will interact with the score. It comes back to making connections to pre-assigned meanings and experiences in order to make sense. This is communication but not necessarily in a creative way. Which is why I personally prefer to draw the focus away from immediately recognising a score as a certain choreography and rather promote the depersonalisation of it, so that the engagement with the score is not immediately connected to or even rejected by previous experiences, but adds to a new experience which might reshape an earlier perception of the work. Of course this can lead to questions of authorship and how far the depersonalisation can go. Where to situate my work in relation to the choreographic works which I score. My intent is not to deny the work the score is based on but rather to offer a new form of engagement with that work. It might be possible to engage with and pass on the knowledge of the choreographer, his/her movement language, and establish its significance as its own system. I believe, for this engagement to be as free from presumptions as possible a certain level of detachment and ambiguity is needed.

There are many forms this project can take. For the purpose of a communicative flow between the scores and the spectator the obvious choice for me seemed to be a book. Something personal to take home, to a space where you feel save to let your imagination wander — and wonder. But there is something rigid and limited about the format of a book. The constraint imposed by pages seems too stagnant for a flow of movement to pass through them. Therefore choosing a scroll of many meters of one paper connects not only back to ancient scripture but also to the limitlessness of the imagination. There are no rectangles, things move from one place to another fluidly and in circular motions. Combining the physical experience of unrolling a scroll, the sensation of the paper and the sound of friction with the visual experience of patterns, colours and letters was my attempt to create an inspired scripture.

Systems communicate reciprocally with one another, a sense thus emerges through circular flows. A scroll filled with systems of movement invites for this kind of multiplicity, an endless exchange between the scores and the imagination. The act of thinking as the act of doing. Or to say it in the words of Yvonne Rainer: “The mind is a muscle.”