Celebrating Janus in January

January is named after the Roman god Janus. As the god of beginnings, transitions, and endings, Janus is usually depicted with two faces, one looking to the future and one to the past. To celebrate the god of this month, I will begin a new year of blogging with some reflections on the previous year.  

Celebrating Janus in January

2017 was marked by progress in preserving the history of movement analysis. Materials contributed to the National Resource Centre for Dance at the University of Surrey by Rudolf Laban’s gifted protégé, Warren Lamb, have now been preserved and catalogued. Given the time and resource intensive nature of archive work, this is a major step forward. Hopefully, the catalogue of this archive will become available online later this year.

Through similarly epic preservation efforts, the archives of movement analysis pioneer Irmgard Bartenieff are now housed, catalogued, and publicly accessible in the Special Collections of the Performing Arts Library at the University of Maryland, College Park.  

In addition, the archives of Motus Humanus, an Anglo-American professional organization for Laban Movement Analysts, have also been transferred to the National Resources Centre for Dance. A partial donation of material made in 2017 will be followed by additional donations in 2018, including monies for preservation and cataloging.

And that’s not all – find out more about landmarks of 2017 in the next blogs.

Laban and Range of Motion

laban danceLaban’s Choreutic forms both mirror and challenge the natural range of motion of the human body.  As Laban was designing these movement sequences, he drew upon his first career as a visual artist.  It’s clear from his figure drawings that he had studied anatomy.  And he applied this knowledge in theorizing the shapes the moving limbs can trace in space.

As I note in The Harmonic Structure of Movement, Music, and Dance, Laban does not distort the proportion of the body itself.  His figure drawings faithfully adhere to a classical canon and his drawings are realistically anthropometric.

I’ve always been fascinated by this.  Laban’s first career in art straddles three modern art movements – Art Nouveau, abstract expressionism, and Dada.  Realistic representation of the human body does not characterize these movements.  Why then was Laban so faithfully realistic?

Quite simply, Laban was interested in the relationship between the body and space.  If he distorted the body’s proportions, he would also distort the trace-forms of moving limbs.  To capture the shapes of trace-forms accurately, he had to preserve normal bodily proportions and grasp joint structure and function.

Irmgard Bartenieff came to appreciate Laban’s anatomical grounding when she started to work as a physical therapist.  As she noted, “Laban’s exploration of spatial possibilities deeply affected the way I worked to stretch my stiff patients.”

There is still much to be learned from Laban’s exploration of spatial possibilities.  That is why MoveScape has offered a series of Red Thread programs this year.  The final workshop is Advanced Space Harmony workshop,  December 3 and 4.  There is still time to register.

Moving in Three Dimensions

laban movementHuman beings have big heads, and biomechanically speaking, this is a headache.  Standing up freed our arms and hands and opened new spatial horizons.  But it also means we must cope with balancing our heavy heads against the constant pull of gravity.

Irmgard Bartenieff always felt that homo sapiens are still working out the possibilities of movement in three-dimensional space.  Evolution has given us greater potential than we have figured out how to use.  And this is where Laban’s Choreutic theories come in.

The scales and rhythmic circles Laban prescribed take the mover out of safe territory – they are off-vertical, de-stabilizing, and challenging in terms of balance and range of motion. I see his Choreutic forms as puzzles to be solved at the body level.

The forthcoming Advanced Space Harmony workshop presents some of Laban’s little known Choreutic forms and invites participants to engage with these both functionally and expressively.  The aim is to create an environment for exploration of new territory.   All those who love a puzzle are welcome!