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Developing a Digital Archive of the Works of Tatsue Sata, a Leading Creator of Japanese Modern Ballet

Minako Nakamura, Yukito Kado, and Kohji Shibano

Introduction 1

There has been an unprecedented increase in the popularity of modern ballet in Japan recently, and a number of Japanese ballet dancers have achieved worldwide reputations.1 However, it is not well known that there are also several Japanese ballet choreographers whose abilities have been widely recognized and whose works are fully appreciated by both dance critics and dancers. One of these is Ms. Tatsue Sata.

     We are in the process of conducting research on Tatsue Sata as one of the leading Japanese modern-ballet choreographers. We plan to document her works and related materials in order to facilitate new performances of her works. We will also develop a digital archive that will both preserve and publicize her contributions. In this article, we present some foundational requirements for making such an archive, illustrate our progress to date, and then examine some distinguishing characteristics of Japanese modern ballet.

Ms. Tatsue Sata

Ms. Sata was born in 1932, so she is now seventy-six years old. She studied ballet under Ms. Seiko Takada, Ms. Eliana Pavlova, and Mr. Yusaku Azuma. Eliana Pavlova is a Russian ballet dancer and was the first ballet dancer to teach ballet in Japan.

     Tatsue Sata started her career as a choreographer in 1954. She won the Japanese Association of Dance Critics Prize five times (1983, 1984, 1989, 1993, and 2007). She was also awarded the Japanese national Medal with Purple Ribbon (1996) and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette (2005) for her dedication to dance.

Japanese Modern Ballet

As little research has been done on Japanese modern ballet to date and there are few research papers on the subject, we will provide a brief outline of some historical events specific to Japanese modern ballet. The term modern ballet as we use it in this paper is a bit different from what the term means in the West; in Japan, it refers to something closer to "creative ballet."

     To begin with, we must ask how it is that Japan, an Eastern country, accepted a Western dance form such as classical ballet? We know that classical ballet was first introduced into Japan in the early twentieth century. It is said that Flower Dance staged at the Imperial Theater (Teikoku Gekijo) in Tokyo in 1911 was the first ballet to be performed by Japanese dancers in Japan. Soon after that, classical ballet was accepted as "New Western Dance," which seems to be one of the characteristics peculiar to Japan.

     In those days in Japan, there were few theaters in which the performance of classical ballet could take place, so "creative ballet" was often staged: that is, new or "modern" works created by means of ballet technique. Under these circumstances, some choreographers thought it necessary for Japanese choreographers themselves to create new ballet works. In 1954, Ms. Sata and fourteen other dancers and choreographers broke away from the Hattori and Shimada Ballet Company to form The Youth Ballet Group, thereby giving birth to modern ballet in Japan. Ms. Sati married Mr. Akikazu Kouchi, also a member of the group, and in 1956, they founded the Sata・Kouchi Ballet Studio.

     Since Ms. Sata was one of those actively engaged in this activity and its development, our future research into her career and works will surely enable us to investigate a major epoch in Japanese modern ballet's history.

     Today in Tokyo, many performances of classical ballet take place, and many works created by young Japanese modern-ballet choreographers trained in Western countries have also been presented on the stage.

The State of Archival Studies of the Dance in Japan

In Japan, the archiving of dance materials has only recently attracted attention in the fields of information science and interdisciplinary research. A great variety of materials are already stored in archives, however. For example, in the archive of Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata at Keio University, Tokyo, there are extensive static materials such as his photos and books. Recently, however, films of dances performed by some of Hijikata's pupils have been added to the archive.

     The video and DVD series of documentary programs titled The Tide of Japanese Contemporary Dance (1988), edited by Kusakabe Shiro and the Contemporary Dance Association of Japan, provides a recent example of the electronic documentation of Japanese modern or contemporary dance.

     In Japanese performing arts, there is no standard notation for movement such as that used for musical notation. The Tokyo New National Theater2 has adopted Benesh Notation to record the works of classical ballet performed there. However, modern ballet departs from the standard rules of classical ballet so much that it proves more difficult to reconstruct or study without an adequate notation system. We are considering using the Laban writing system (Labanotation). It has been used in similar projects and has been shown to be more flexible and comprehensive than Benesh (Farnell 1994, 1996). In another project, we have been developing Laban Editor and LabanXML, which is a computer-based language to represent Labanotation.3

     Setting the notation problem aside for the moment, we decided to start our archiving project by investigating the choreographer's intentions, using her own forms of record keeping with the goal of reconstructing her works.

Developing a Digital Archive

We are developing a hypermedia digital archive of Ms. Sata's works using several different media. Ms. Sata's starts her creation of a new performance by writing choreographic notes that include annotated texts and visual symbols in handwritten form. She then choreographs a dance through a series of rehearsal processes. Our archive to date consists of these handwritten choreographic notes (that we call "Sata's notes"), memos, rehearsal videos, and video of theatrical performances, together with related printed materials, including critiques. At present, we have video recordings of theatrical performances of Sata's two masterpieces Sonnet and Teien (a garden), as well as two rehearsal videos, each of which is about twenty hours long. Since Ms. Sata is still actively creating new ballets, we also plan to include interviews with her about her works.

Figure 1
Figure 1. A photograph of the modern ballet Teien, choreographed by Tatsue Sata. Photograph by Hidemasa Tanioka, September 2006.

     In the past, documenting the complete works of an artist usually meant creating a collection of published books or papers. It was not possible to include records of live performances. However, today, by using state-of-the-art hypermedia technologies, it is possible to weave text (including handwritten notes), images, audio, and video to form a more comprehensive collection. We expect that a user of our digital archive will be able to understand Ms. Sata's works much better. Since we have just started the project, in this paper, we will use Ms. Sata's short performance entitled Sonnet as an example, to demonstrate our approach to developing a hypermedia dance archive.4

Figure 2
Figure 2. A photograph of the modern ballet Sonnet, choreographed by Tatsue Sata (1994). Photograph by Hidemasa Tanioka, July 2007.

     Sonnet, a piece constructed from highly abstract movement phrases, was first performed in 1994, with a second performance in 2005 and a third in 2007. The duration of the work is about nine minutes, and, as shown in Figure 2, it is performed by three persons, two men and one woman. The Sata notes for Sonnet consist of the following: (1) a beat number (which indicates timing), (2) textual instructions, and (3) graphical instructions (each dancer's part is designated by colors).

Figure 3
Figure 3. Original "Sata's notes" from the third page of Ms. Sati's work Sonnet (1994).

     Figure 3 shows the original Sata notes from the third page of Sonnet. Figure 4 shows the first line of Sata notes from Sonnet with our hypermedia additions. First, we made textual data using Microsoft Excel. The first column shows the beat number and the second column the textual instructions from Ms. Sata's notes (note that the English text is a translation). Figure 5 shows the second line of eight counts from the Sata notes.

Figure 4
Figure 4. The first line (eight counts) of Sata's notes from Sonnet with the authors' hypermedia additions—translations and transcriptions of what is happening on beat one in Japanese and English writing. [Editors note: The design of the staff follows a left-to-right format similar to that used in Eshkol-Wachman notation.]


Figure 5
Figure 5. The second line of eight counts from Sata's notes of Sonnet.

     Based on this text, we then classified the specifications according to each dancer's performance, as shown in Figure 6. Ms. Sata told us that she had devised a scheme such as Sata's notes so that she could minutely choreograph each of the three dancer's movements, in case they could not practice together due to their different schedules.

Figure 6
Figure 6. The hypermedia frame, showing classified specifications according to each dancer's performance.

     In the hypermedia frame shown in Figure 6, the first vertical axis provides the performing time line, while the horizontal axis contains Ms. Sata's choreographic notes, and any additional information about rehearsals and theatrical performances.

     In sum, to date, we have documented and analyzed Ms. Sata's works using her own choreographic notes, as well as video records of rehearsals and theatrical performances. We have focused mainly on examining the texts of Sata's notes, so our basic design of the archive thus far relates to the storage of these two-dimensional materials. To preserve Sata's notes, we have used high-level graphics to maintain information about the movement motifs and spatial arrangements that are represented by her system, together with any language texts.

     Sata's notes do not include rigorous specifications of the detail movements of the dances. We recognize that, in order to inform people objectively about the details, it would be necessary to use a movement notation such as Labanotation. Only the original sources of scanned images, digital videos, and Labanotation scores of the works would be detailed enough for expert researchers of dance, but we also recognize that nonspecialists cannot make full use of all these resources. For the moment, we intend to document Sata's choreographic intentions as fully as possible using her own choreographic notes and by talking with her directly in interviews. In this way and in the short term, we hope to provide nonspecialist users with texts they can read.

     Our attempts thus far bring to light a number of problems that arise when using new technologies for archiving performing arts, and we look forward to meeting further challenges as our project develops.


This research was partially supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C).


1 For example, Ms. Miyako Yoshida (born 1965), a female ballet dancer who won the Richard Sherrington Award for Best Female Dancer in 2006 and Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2007. Born and trained in Tokyo, she joined the Royal Ballet School in 1983 and SWRB/BRB in 1984. In 1995, she transferred to the Royal Ballet (as a principal dancer from 1988 to 2006). In 2006, she joined the K Company produced by Mr. Tetsuya Kumakawa in Japan, who was also a principal of the Royal Ballet.

2 The official name is New National Theater, Tokyo.

3 Laban Editor is the Windows-based input system of Labanotation that is being developed by Prof. Kozaburo Hachimura (Ritsumeikan University in Japan) and me (Nakamura and Hachimura 2000). Laban Writer is the Macintosh-based input system of Labanotation developed by the Dance Notation Bureau Extension at Ohio State University.

     A computational analysis is required for interchanging Labanotation data via the Internet, searching for specific movement patterns, analyzing dance movements, and archiving body-motion data. There are several types of text representations. Among these, XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is the most widely used for this purpose. Especially on the Internet, XML is used for most applications. However, XML for Labanotation has not yet been fully developed. MusicXML was developed by Michael Good based on XML and designed for interchanging music data via the Internet ( Dances are usually accompanied by music, so we are designing LabanXML to be compatible with MusicXML.

4 Technologies for digital archives can be classified into "Browse" and "Search" technologies. Browse can be further classified into Multimedia and Text-only. Multimedia browse is known as Hypermedia, and Text-only browse is known as Hypertext. Search and update can be done by a database management system, that is, SQL database. Read-only search is done by an information retrieval system such as Web search engines. Thus, for this research, the choice of the technologies should be Hypermedia.

References Cited:

Delahunta, Scott, ed.
2007. Capturing Intention: Documentation, Analysis and Notation Research Based on work of Emio Greco | PC, Emio Greco | PC and AHK. .

Farnell, Brenda
1994. Ethno-Graphics and the Moving Body. MAN Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 29(4): 929–74.
1996. Movement Notation Systems. In The Worlds Writing Systems (ed. Peter Daniels and William Bright) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 855–79.

Kusakabe, Shiro
1988. The Tide of Japanese Contemporary Dance. 6 volumes. The Contemporary Dance Association of Japan. VHS Video Series. (DVD version 2008).

Nakamura, Minako and Kozaburo Hachimura
2000. Labanotation and New Technology-Application of Hypermedia to Choreography and Dance Education. Papers and Abstracts. World Dance 2000 Academic Conference, 131–35.
2005. An XML Representation of Labanotation Laban XML and Its Implementation on the Notation Editor LabanEditor2. Proceedings of the First Southeastern European Digitization Initiative (SEEDI), 90–94.

Nakamura, Minako, Kohji Shibano and Kozaburo Hachimura
2007. Computational Analysis of Balinese Dance Using LabanXML. International Council of Kinetography Laban (ICKL), Proceedings of the 25th Biennial Conference, 183–93.

Page, JoAnne
1996. Images for Understanding: Movement Notations and Visual Recordings. Visual Anthropology 8(2–4): 171–96.

Electronic References cited (URLs):

Contemporary Dance Association of Japan,

Dance Notation Bureau Extension at Ohio State University,

Hijikata Tatsumi Archive (information in Japanese and English),

Michael Good (Music XML),

Richard Sherrington Award for Best Female Dancer 2006,

Sata・Kouchi Ballet Studio (information in Japanese),



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