Movement Is the Life of Space

Young beautiful dancer jumping into blue powder cloud

The quotation above has always been one of my favorites from Laban’s masterwork, Choreutics. I like Laban’s assertion because it encourages us to think about space in a different way.

Dead space does not exist,” Laban continues, “for there is neither space without movement nor movement without space.” It’s a little hard to wrap one’s head around this. We are accustomed to thinking of space as a gap between objects that are stable, real, and palpable. Space, on the other hand, is empty and void. It cannot be touched, and consequently lacks discernible qualities. And yet philosophers from Pythagoras to Henri Bergson have characterized space much differently.

For example, in his lectures on Pythagoras, Manly Hall notes that objects are known by the space between them rather than by their own nature. This is because space implies motion. No one knows what a cat or a dog is, until they begin to move. Through movement in space, says Hall, “each thing writes a name for itself by what it does.”

Similarly, Henri Bergson contends that space is not a fixed, homogeneous ground onto which movement is posited, “rather it is real motion that deposits space beneath itself.”

Laban also argues for an interdependent relationship between space and movement. He notes that the concept of space as a locality in which movement takes place can be helpful.

“However, we must not look at the locality simply as an empty room, separated from movement, nor at movement as an occasional happening only, for movement is a continuous flux within the locality itself…. Space is a hidden feature of movement and movement is a visible aspect of space.”