Muriel Topaz

Dance journalist, educator

Muriel Topaz, influential dance journalist, educator and specialist in choreographic notation, died April 28 in Branford, Conn., of a liver ailment. She was 70.

Topaz spent much of her career writing dances down in the intricate system of diagrams called Labanotation, named after Rudolf von Laban, a Hungarian dancer, ballet master and movement theorist in the 1920s.

“Most of the revivals that we see are possible only because someone at some time wrote something down,” she told the New York Times, speaking of dance, in 1985.

As a result of her notated scores, works by such choreographers as Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman, Doris Humphrey, Kurt Jooss, Jose Limon, Jerome Robbins and Paul Taylor can be restaged.

Topaz also taught Labanotation throughout the United States and in Argentina, Mexico, France and England. Her study guides to dance notation have been translated into a number of languages, including Korean, Japanese and Chinese.

However, her greatest achievement may well be the seven complete ballets by Antony Tudor that she documented, along with her book “Undimmed Lustre: The Life of Antony Tudor,” published in 2002.

Topaz, born in Philadelphia in 1932, went to Gotham in the ’50s to study at New York U. and the Dance Notation Bureau, and with Martha Graham and Tudor at the Juilliard School, where she earned a BFA.

From 1952-59, she danced in a number of small companies and choreographed through 1961, the year her notation career began. She joined Juilliard in 1959, and by the mid-1960s, she was restaging notated dances for the Juilliard Dance Ensemble.

During the ’60s, she gained renown through writing “Changes and New Developments in Labanotation” and other specialist studies. In 1970, she became the director of Labanotation at the Dance Notation Bureau, an international center for dance documentation and preservation that Topaz helped expand and diversify.

In 1984, for example, she organized the first Intl. Congress on Movement Notation in Israel. In 1978, she was appointed the notation bureau’s executive director and remained there until 1985, when she became the director of the dance division at Juilliard.

She wrote or edited 12 books, served on countless dance panels and boards, and worked as a senior editor at Dance Magazine, where she edited the Young Dancer section 1995-96.

The widow of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jacob Druckman, she is survived by a daughter, a son and three grandchildren.

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