Labanotation: the Archie Gemmill Goal

This project is a transcription of what I consider to be the most famous single movement event in my native culture, the goal that Archie Gemmill scored for Scotland against Holland in the 1978 World Cup.

The original notation was made at the Laban centre; the choreography was danced by Kathi Palitz and Andy Howitt and photographed by Robin Gillanders. The photographs were exhibited in an installation that I devised for the opening exhibition at BALTIC, and a pocketbook was published for the 2002 World Cup.

The project is discussed in more detail in the correspondence below.

Photographs of Kathi Palitz performing Labanotation by Robin Gillanders © 2002.
Click here

Labanotation notation Click here

‘All the unfathomable impulses and efforts of man became the content of dances. We still see today, in the relics of national dances, the embodiment of tribal ideas, exultation and pride, loneliness, gaiety or languor, cherished differently by each race according to its physical and physical make-up. Man aspires to be something greater than he is, and knows that he can acquire the greatness that he covets, if only during the imaginative moments when he is lifted above himself in dance. Whether the sincere repetition of such dances produces deeper effects than this, and whether man’s spirit is really strengthened by the decision to become his own better self is an open question. I think we may learn more about this over the years, if we accustom ourselves to notating and pondering the structure of human movements.’

Rudolf Laban, from Principles of Dance Movement and Notation.

Letter from Alec Finlay to Kathi Palitz

Dear Kathi,

I am enclosing the Labanotation for the dace piece that I would like you to perform at Sadler’’s Wells …. It is important to me that you do not have any memory of the goal so that you respond to the notation in a ‘pure’ way. I’m not evn sure if you were born in 1978?

Of course, the Archie Gemmill goal is very famous in Scotland. We don’t have so many goals to celebrate but the distance that the work travels from football is also important – in the movements that you make disconnected steps will gradually acquire definition, and there will be a moment when a dance has finally taken shape. In the process of becoming a dance the identification shifts away from Gemmill’s goal, away from the past event, towards the particular emotional and imaginative meanings these moves suggest to you as you perform them. The fewer associations the original event has for you, the more you will translate into your own terms.

In the commentary for the Gemmill goal David Coleman describes Scotland being ‘in dreamland’ when Archie scores. The dreams of being a great footballer or a great dancer are not so distant from one another. ~Both can become weighed down by the burden of expectations. Where facility and skill are harnessed to ‘goals’ these can all too easily elide the pleasure of ‘movement of play for its own sake …

Sometimes when you see a kick-about among kids in a park, their aim is to score not lots of goals, but one beautiful goal. They tee the ball up, pass and cross, until the perfect opportunity arises for one of them to bullet it into the goal, or for the goalie to make a beautiful save. The high that they seek is born in the imagination, in the football they have watched on TV, but on their field of dreams they experience it in the motion of their own body. The enact something remembered, but their ploys also catch them up in something new. I guess that dance is like that sometimes? Even when it is a chore of exercises, you must sometimes get released into something new feeling?

… If you had asked me two years ago I would never have imagined making a book about dance, but I begin to see that there are reasons why it has become important to me. In a way, dance terrifies me… I would love to move gracefully but sometimes it seems that I am only just learning how to place one foot in front of the other on the surface of this whirlygig earth.

The feeling of ‘learning’ is important to this work: as if someone who dances were learning to move in an unfamiliar way: as if someone were learning the national dance of a strange land. Isn’t it always true that art seems to come to us from the centre of our being and, at the same time, form the edge of our knowing? You are my way of understanding something of what it means to make art through the movement of the body. I’m jealous of your art, and glad of it. Good luck with your performance. When you have a moment, write me a line or two about how it went.

Best wishes,


Letter from Kathi Palitz to Alec Finlay

The Laban Centre

Dear Alec,

Here, finally is my letter… I liked what you wrote about me being your guide: the idea is yours but the art of the movement is not familiar to you, so I am your guide. In one of your letters you mentioned learning as an important aspect: me as a dancer knowing the principles of movement and now learning a ‘new style’ that is unfamiliar to me. I think this is the same for you in a way, you are learning about another language, the language of movement and the language of notaion. After all, word, picture, movement can communicate meaning and serve as a language. That is where I see our collaboration.

Notation for me is like a bridge between word and movement, as it tries to transform movement into something you can write down, read, analyse and reconstruct.

You wrote that you think about notation a s a kind of memory, like poetry. I think that is a wonderful comparison: in fact, notation itself is an organization of symbols for body parts put together into movement and phrases, like letters into words and words into sentences. But what these movements mean, chosen from thousands of possibilities, like words in a poem, isn’t written down in the notation. Neither notation nor poetry give an explanation or suggestion about the emotional response of the reader, viewer or dancer.

When I got the ‘score’ of Archie Gemmil’s goal I knew it was about football, nevertheless my first look at the score didn’t show me football, it showed me movement. Then I started reading and the movement that grew form it started to look like football, running, dribbling….

Again learning is important; I can use my knowledge about movement and notation to learn a new style of moving football, which is totally unfamiliar for me. But the emotion that rises in me is certainly not the original one of the football player shooting a goal.

The football player was probably very excited before he scored for his team, and happy and proud afterwards because of the importance of his goal.

I feel excitement about the project our collaboration because, like the football player’s aim to shoot a goal, my aim is to dance and to perform, and with this collaboration I have the chance, just like the football player then, to shoot a goal…

Best wishes,


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