Natasha Frid Finlay in rehearsal for The Nutcracker and explaining Benesh notation to a class at NBS

Since its premier in 1995, the junior students at Canada’s National Ballet School have played a critical role in the National Ballet of Canada’s successful presentation of James Kudelka’s The Nutcracker. The ballet has roles for over fifty children who are called upon to perform challenging choreography as well as to carry the narrative. In order to fill all the performances of the company’s Nutcracker season, four different casts of fifty are required. Preparing all these students for their roles is a significant undertaking so it is not surprising that Laurel Toto, NBS’ Junior School Manager and Community Engagement Co-Manager, who is in charge of teaching and rehearsing the students, and her assistants, have been hard at work with all the junior students over the last two months. Last fall, and again this year, however, there has been somebody else hard at work in the studio along with them. Her name is Natasha Frid Finlay and she is a notator of Benesh Movement Notation.
Benesh Movement Notation is a system for writing down dance and Finlay is creating a Benesh notation score for Kudelka’s The Nutcracker. A Benesh movement score is similar to a music score. It is written on a five line staff with symbols representing different parts of the body in movement. Each dancer in the ballet has a staff of his/her own, like the instruments in an orchestral score. With a cast of over a hundred dancers, notating The Nutcracker is a monumental task. In fact, work on this score has been ongoing since its creation. Some of the initial notation was done by Peter Ottmann, the company’s Senior Ballet Master who is also a Benesh notator.  In fact, if you look at the front of Canada’s National Ballet School, you can see Ottmann’s notation for the opening scene of the ballet highlighted in the glass curtain wall.

Finlay is currently working on all the children’s roles. Last year, when some of the students expressed curiosity about what she was doing during their rehearsals, an arrangement was made for her to attend the Grade 7 History of Ballet class at which she gave an introductory workshop on Benesh notation. As a result, this year she is enjoying showing the students what she has recorded and they have helped answer specific questions she has posed. She recently said that she is: “thrilled they are taking such an active role in recording the legacy of this ballet.”

When she is done, Finlay will be responsible for putting her work together with the work done over the years by Ottmann. Once the task is finished, there will be a complete score of this ballet which holds an important place in the history of dance in Canada. In addition to the choreography, the score will include information about musical timing, stage plans, many interpretive details, and remarks made by the choreographer during the creation and rehearsal periods - a precise score of the ballet in its original form as conceived by Kudelka.