Rudolf Laban (1879 – 1958)
Laban began his career as a painter, architect and illustrator. He soon became a performer and choregrapher. His ideas have generated innovations in dance, acting, performance, in the study of non-verbal comunication, in ergonomics, in educational theory and child development, in personality assessment and psychotherapy. He also devised a revolutionary method of movement notation that continues to be used today.
Laban arrived in England in 1938 as a refugeee from Nazi Germany. He had been one of the most distinguished figures in the evolution and development of Modern Dance in Central Europe. He taught and inspired Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss, choreographed at Bayreuth and directed the Berlin Opera. His invention of the ‘Movement Choir’ embodied the notion of ‘dance for all’ anticipating the community dance movement by some 60 years.
Laban’s work is profound, charged with ideas, open to development and can inform contemporary practice at any level of experience.
Rudolf Laban: An Extraordinary Life by Valerie Preston-Dunlop – published by Dance Books 1998
Staying Alive article by Anna Carlisle – originally published in Animated and reprinted in Movement & Dance Autumn 2006
Photo from Gordon Curl’s collection
The Work of Rudolf Laban
Rudolf Laban found a fascination in observing people’s movements in all aspects of life. His analysis of movement is based on anatomical, spatial and dynamic principles – what the body can do, how it does it, how it relates to space, and how the quality of movement affects function and communication.
The analysis is flexible, providing a means of observing, understanding and describing movement – both quantitatively and qualitatively – which can be applied to all forms of movement and areas of body movement research. Consequently, Laban’s work has been applied in a number of fields:
dance creation, performance and teaching in both professional and community contexts; dance therapy and dance for special needs; psychology, anthropology and ethnology; acting and drama; dance, drama and gymnastics in education; industry and management. Colleges and universities in Australia, Europe, South Africa, the USA, Canada and South America have courses of study in areas of Laban’s work, with graduates who are teaching, choreographing, performing, practising therapy, notating, writing about dance and developing research.
Because Laban’s interest in movement went beyond the dance studio and into many areas of life it was inevitable that his system of notation should be based on the universal laws of kinetics rather than on any particular dance genre or style. Laban’s Schrifftanz (written dance) published in 1928, contained two innovations: the vertical staff to represent the body and the elongated symbols which show the exact duration of any action. Over time this system has continued to be developed and is one of the most comprehensive and significant systems of dance/movement notation today.
The many facets of Laban’s work provide us with a wide range of intellectual, emotional, physical and artistic challenges.
Reference: Laban Guild Member’s Handbook