Rudolf Laban, Pattern Maker

Rudolf Laban‘s creative genius has given rise to the illusion that he was not systematic. But as I explain in The Harmonic Structure of Movement, Music, and Dance, his personal papers present a different picture.

Initially, Laban’s notes appear disorderly. Fragmentary writings and mysterious geometrical sketches abound, giving witness to Laban’s tendency to rush ahead with ideas without finishing them. Over time, however, themes recur and the thrust of Laban’s fertile mind begins to emerge. Moreover, the mysterious drawings begin to have meaning.

My first “ah ha” moment came when I recognized that Laban used his training as a visual artist to capture his observations of physical movements in space. Classical and Renaissance artists had used geometrical forms – such as circles, squares, grids, and cones – to facilitate realistic representation of bodies in motion. Laban took this a bit further. He used the regular polyhedra to create a longitude and latitude for the space around the body. This use of geometrical forms not only allowed him to map movements in visible space but also to generate highly symmetrical sequences of movement as models. Laban’s application of geometry seemed a logical extension to me. Anyone concerned with recording lines of bodily motion through visible space and looking for patterns might have come up with a similar geometrical device.

Carol-Lynne MooreThen I began to find additional geometrical drawings among Laban’s writing about the psychological aspect of movement; that is, the dynamic qualities of kinetic energy that suggest the mover’s moods and intentions. Kinetic energy doesn’t manifest as a line in visible space in the same way that, say, the arm traces a line as it reaches upward. What kind of guy models effort phrases on three-dimensional Platonic solids?

A guy like Laban. That was my second “ah ha.” Laban was using three-dimensional geometrical models to represent both the physical and the psychological aspects of movement. His method of theoretical modeling was consistent for both space and effort.

Hidden among his private papers, Laban the naturalist converted his observations into elegant patterns. As Littlewood surmised, Laban had indeed “spent his life on system research,” formally recording his findings in a dense, yet coherent geometrical code.