Irmgard Bartenieff Archive – A Miracle

For years after Bartenieff’s death in 1981, the Laban Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies carefully stored her papers but lacked the funds for full preservation and cataloging. The papers remained, untouched and unseen, in a warehouse in Brooklyn. And then there was a fire in the warehouse.

Irmgard Barenieff-Archive-Miracle

 

A cry for help went out to the Laban community, and through crowdfunding, enough money was raised to allow Vincent Novarra, Curator of Special Collections from the University of Maryland Performing Arts Library, to rent a truck, drive to Brooklyn, and see if Bartenieff’s papers had survived. They had!

 

He brought the boxes, along with the Laban Institute papers, back to Maryland. And then the second miracle occurred. The library found funds to hire Dr. Susan Wiesner, digital humanist, to catalog the collection.  

 

None of this would have happened if Professor Karen Bradley had not laid the groundwork for housing these archives in Maryland. Three years later, the Archive is now available for public access.  

 

This means that in the future it will be possible to construct a much fuller portrait of the remarkable woman who has so profoundly influenced Laban training in the U.S.

On Irmgard Bartenieff

In the summer of 1975, I left the Nikolai-Louis Studio, walked across Union Square to the Dance Notation Bureau, and declared I was interested in the Effort/Shape Program.

Irmgard Bartenieff

I was ushered in to see Irmgard Bartenieff, a delicate elderly German lady who had worked directly with Rudolf Laban. She was guiding spirit of the Effort/Shape program. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but Irmgard was open and encouraging. I became her student, then her assistant, and eventually a fellow faculty member.

After her death, when I left New York  and found myself on my own with no Laban colleagues handy, I really missed Irmgard. Then I began to appreciate fully the scope of her knowledge and the positive impact of who she was and her whole way of being in the world.

Consequently, I am delighted that Irmgard Bartenieff’s archives have a home now at the University of Maryland library. I am looking forward to the upcoming Symposium on November 10th, when those influenced by Bartenieff will share their reminiscences. This event, organized by archivist Susan L. Wiesner, launches an exhibit in the Performing Arts Library gallery that follows Irmgard’s path through her professional life. And what a career – dancer, Laban student, Labanotator, physical therapist, dance therapist, Effort/Shape guru, teach, author, and dance ethnographer. She was a living example of the many ways movement study can be applied. Thus the title of my Symposium talk – “Irmgard Bartenieff – Icon of Possibility.”

Constant Change…

As Irmgard Bartenieff used to observe, “Constant change is here to stay.” This is certainly the case in Berlin, where Bartenieff grew up. When I first taught for Eurolab  — Rotterdam (1988) and Berlin (1993-1996) – the Laban Certificate Programs were Constant-Changemodeled on the American version. And it was an irony of history that these early programs depended heavily on American faculty to teach the Europeans what the Europeans had taught the Americans! 

Two decades later, under the able direction of Antja Kennedy, the Laban programs in Germany have developed a unique format, delivered by European faculty in both German and English.

Recently I had the opportunity to teach in the final session of the Basic Course in Berlin. This part of the German certificate program is delivered over two years, with  monthly taught sessions of several days. It was a real honor to work with the students and the local faculty. They are doing great work together, distinguished by the dedication, seriousness, and thoroughness that are part of the national character.