The Mysterious Mobius

The mobius strip, also known as a lemniscate, is a unique shape having only one side and one edge.  The shape was invented almost simultaneously by two German mathematicians in 1858.  It became popular as a prop for magical parlor tricks in the late 19th century, and perhaps this is how Laban encountered it.

Mysterious-Mobius

 

You can make one yourself by twisting a strip of paper and joining the ends.  A normal band (think of a rubber band or a simple bracelet) has an inner surface and an outer surface and two edges.  But the mobius strip has only one surface and one edge. That is, if you start tracing a line on the outer surface, your pencil will move to the inner surface and return to the outer surface without ever lifting the pen.  Similarly, if you start running a finger along one edge and circuit the strip twice, you travel along both edges without interruption.

 

In other words, the outer becomes the inner and the inner becomes the outer.

 

Laban writes about lemniscates in Choreutics and even maps a couple in the kinesphere using direction symbols.  Does Laban mean for this to be taken literally, as a spatial trace-form?  Of is this a symbolic form?  Find out more in the forthcoming MoveScape Center course, “Decoding Choreutics.”

Science Catches Up With Laban

The ancient Greeks knew that there were only five three dimensional symmetrical shapes – the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron. The first four shapes occur in nature, in various inorganic crystals. But the icosahedron appeared to exist only in mathematicians’ imaginations.

 

Science-Catches-Up-Laban

 

However, as Dr. Eugenia Cheng noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, once electron microscopes were invented [circa 1930], “we discovered that many viruses, in fact, have icosahedron structures.” Since the latter discovery around 1950, Cheng adds, modern uses for the icosahedral shape have been found, such as geodesic domes and soccer balls.

 

Laban began using the icosahedron as a 3-D longitude and latitude for the human kinesphere in the 1920s. This crystalline shape seems to belong uniquely to the morphology of living organisms. Was Laban prescient?  Why did the icosahedron become his favorite shape for mapping human movement? Find out more in the upcoming correspondence course, “Decoding Choreutics.”

Space: The Final Frontier

Laban’s notions of space are the most difficult to understand and to embody for many movement analysis students.  Laban himself had to perform some mental gymnastics to capture the disappearing trace-forms of natural movement.  Fortunately, he left a guidebook – Choreutics (aka – The Language of Movement).

Space-Final-Frontier

 

Choreutics has always been my favorite book by Laban – but it is not an easy read.  Consequently, I developed an “old school” correspondence course in 2016 –“Decoding Rudolf Laban’s Masterpiece, Choreutics.” Back by popular demand, this course takes readers on a guided tour of this fascinating book.

 

Based on an easy schedule, participants will read the Preface, Introduction, and first 12 chapters of Choreutics.  A set of study questions will be provided for each reading assignment.  When each reading assignment has been completed, participants will receive a commentary that I have prepared, providing background context and elaborating on Laban’s themes.   

 

Think of this as a “great books” course designed to help movement specialists explore space with both body and mind.  Find out more….

Advancing Laban’s Work in Germany

I will be teaching master workshops for Eurolab in Berlin in mid-October. The workshop theme is “Laban as Pattern Maker – Material That Never Gets Taught in the Certificate Program.”

Advancing-Laban’s-Work-Germany

Across three days, we will be exploring patterns in space and effort patterns. In terms of space, I aim to start with concepts that underlie Laban’s Choreutic forms, such as “rhythmic circles,” symmetry operations, and spatial intervals. Practical work will focus on embodying the Primary Scale, along with mixed 7-rings (one of the Choreutic forms that is seldom taught).

We will also explore how Laban applied symmetry and asymmetry in developing effort sequences and patterns. These little known aspects of Laban’s thinking are critical to phrasing effort changes organically and meaningfully.

During the last day of the workshop, we return to spatial themes, learning and working creatively with peripheral and transverse 5-rings, tilted planes, and an open form that Laban’s intriguingly referred to as “snakes!”

Eurolab (European Association for Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies) has been running Certificate Programs in northern Europe since the late 1980s. By now, there is a healthy community of European Laban Movement Analysts doing very interesting work. I taught and helped run some of the early programs, so I’m very excited to be returning, to reconnect with familiar faces and meet new ones.

Comments on “Decoding Choreutics”

I created the correspondence course, “Decoding Laban’s Choreutics” last year for two reasons: 1) I wanted to push myself to study this seminal book deeply, and 2) now that it is back in print, I wanted to encourage other movement analysts to read it, too.

Decoding-Laban-Choreutics

I’ve read Choreutics more than once, and it has always been my favorite of Laban’s books. I learned a lot by organizing the reading assignments, and re-reading along with fellow movement analysts. Here is what some of them had to say:

“The course provided me with a most satisfying and fulfilling re-engagement with the world of LMA.”

“I gained the chance to digest/redigest this material 30+ years hence my original training – which allowed me to bring MY experience into the mix.”

“The pace was just right. The work load was enough to be engaging but not so much as to be overwhelming.”

“The commentaries are very interesting; they add more information and insight to the writings of Laban.”

“I’m inspired to rethink how I engage my students in the Space Harmony material.”

“Decoding Laban’s Masterpiece Choreutics” starts again in October.  Register now.

Advancing Laban’s Ideas in Virtual Space

Moving oneself and observing others move are the best ways to learn about movement, but not the only ways. Recently I’ve been experimenting (successfully!) with correspondence courses.

Advancing-Labans-Ideas

It may seem counterintuitive that something as “old school” as a correspondence course can advance Laban’s work. But I, and nearly 40 readers on five continents, have been finding that this a great way to approach two of Laban’s most seminal books, Choreutics  (aka The Language of Movement) and Mastery of Movement.  

Choreutics primarily focuses on the space and shape aspects of movement, while Mastery deals more with body and effort. I subdivide each book into six assignments, with orienting questions, movement activities, and observation tasks. Students and I correspond via email regarding these assignments. In addition, I provide written commentaries on each chapter of the respective book.

Beginning in late October, MoveScape Center is offering the course “Decoding Rudolf Laban’s Masterpiece, Choreutics.” The course will end before Christmas, with an extra week off in the middle for Thanksgiving. Find out more.  

Advancing Laban’s Ideas in the Movement Studio

During the recent MoveScape Center workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere,” in New York City, we all had an “ah ha” moment about Laban’s effort theory. Here is how this insight unfolded.

Laban identified four effort drives. Of these, the Action Drive is the best known, for it deals with practical movements involved in working with tangible objects. The other three drives – Vision, Passion, and Spell – are called “transformation drives.” These are more subtle and complex effort combinations that have less to do with physical actions and more to do with mental activities such as thinking, feeling, and willing.

Advancing-Labans-Movement

For Laban, mental activities also involve moving. I’m sure he would agree with Mabel Ellsworth Todd, who wrote “For every thought supported by feeling, there is a muscle change.” Laban obviously characterized the combination of space, time, and flow factors as the outward embodiment of visionary states of mind – those mental acts of following a line of thought, steadily concentrating, soaring on the wings of imagination, catching a sudden insight, coming to a gradual realization, and so on.

Yet, when workshop participants were asked to identify associations with the various combinations of Vision Drive, they kept coming up with practical actions, like throwing darts and quenching fires. They reverted to physical actions that were not visionary in the least.  

This made us all realize that while we movement folk complain about the mind/body split, we tend to privilege the body over the mind. This sometimes leads us to think about effort in strictly physical terms.  

Laban was way ahead. He realized that movement is a psychophysical phenomenon. And he stuck to this view, finding effort in thinking, feeling, and willing as well as in acting.

Body or Soma?

Laban Movement Analysis allows one to approach the body both objectively and subjectively. Labanotation and motif writing provide means to analyze body actions objectively, while the somatic practice of Bartenieff Fundamentals is focused more on internal self-awareness.

body-or-soma

Both bodily perspectives are presented in Meaning in Motion. The first section provides a terse illustration of how bodily actions are analyzed and recorded. The second section places the work of Laban and Bartenieff in the broader context of the somatics movement. A third section discusses principles and exercises of Bartenieff Fundamentals. The chapter closes with a compilation of body level concepts.

By incorporating both perspectives, instructors can tailor the “body” component of an LMA course to their specific needs. For some courses, a more basic and objective approach may be appropriate. What are the parts of my body? What are the types of actions I can do? How can I make simple sequences of actions? Studio activities around these questions can lead on to experience with simple notation or pave the way for another course in Labanotation.

Other instructors may prefer to focus on somatic dimensions. Some students relish this, others may resist. In the context of this, I have found that the key is to link the seemingly simple Bartenieff Fundamentals exercises to more dynamic and demanding movement sequences so that students experience links between body, effort, and space.

Shape as Laban Conceived It

Choreutics (space) and Eukinetics (effort) are the two broad categorical headings under which Laban grouped elements of movement. He did not single out shape as a separate category. Initially, shape was a Gestalt concept for Laban, a combination of the lines traced by the body in space and the dynamic qualities observable in these three-dimensional sequences.

Laban-Shape

Laban’s first career as a visual artist and his familiarity with Art Nouveau and abstract Expressionist theories influenced his initial description of shape as an element of dance and movement. In Meaning in Motion, I explain that Laban’s notion of the mover’s space has two aspects: one descriptive and one prescriptive. Now it is time to explore Laban’s “Language of Space”: http://movescapecenter.com/labans-language-of-space/For example, Laban studied with the Swiss botanist and artist Hermann Obrist. Obrist admonished his students to understand natural objects as images “full of expressive forces, full of linear, plastic, constructive movements.”

Laban applied this notion to dance. In his first book, he noted that “the dancer observes the form of things and the movement of living creatures as to their directional tendencies.” Then the dancer translates these into gestures laden with “psychic tension.”

Consequently, the shape chapter in Meaning in Motion opens with a movement exploration based upon the shapes of natural objects, such as rocks, shells, pine cones, branches, etc. The chapter moves on to discuss a more precise definition of movement shapes, focusing on modes of shape change and shape qualities. The chapter closes with working definitions of the elements of shape.

Laban’s “Language of Space”

In Meaning in Motion, I explain that Laban’s notion of the mover’s space has two aspects: one descriptive and one prescriptive.

To better describe movement, Laban created several “geographies” of space. These give definition to the bubble of territory adjacent to the mover’s body, which Laban called the “kinesphere.” Such geographies created landmarks in the kinesphere and make the systematic description of motion in three dimensions possible.

Laban's-language

In addition, Laban designed highly symmetrical sequences of directional change that circle through different areas of the kinesphere. These prescribed sequences of directional change provide a way to explore the kinesphere, to test balance, and to expand the range of motion.

Because Laban’s language of space relies upon geometrical models that must be imagined as surrounding the mover’s body, the spatial aspects of Laban Movement Analysis challenges many students. Consequently, in Meaning in Motion I have incorporated many creative explorations. These address the kinesphere; the Dimensional Scale; the planes; oblique mobility and the Diagonal Scale; and central, peripheral, and transverse movement. More advanced spatial sequences are notated in the appendix.

There is a lot of material in this chapter so that instructors can pick and choose what they want to emphasize in a given course. If the language of space speaks to a student, he or she will also be able to see that there is more movement material to be explored.