Laban and War

Rudolf Laban’s father was a general in the Austro-Hungarian Army. As Laban writes in his autobiography,  “My father taught me the life of a soldier, which fascinated me almost as much as did the arts.” Subsequent events show that the life of the artist won.  Nevertheless, Laban drew on his military background when it came to theorizing dance and movement.

Man-Fencing-Laban-War

As Gwynne Dyer asserts, for almost all human history, a battle “has been an event as stylized and limited in its movement as a classical ballet, and for the same reasons:  the inherent capabilities and limitations of the human body.”  Laban concurs, drawing parallels in Choreutics between the cardinal dimensions, the five positions of ballet, and protection of the vulnerable areas of the human body as mirrored in the opening movements of fencing.

 

The metaphor of battle also plays a role in Laban’s conceptualization of human effort.  In Laban’s dynamic framework, each of the four motion factor manifests as one or the other of two contrasting effort qualities.  Four of these effort qualities indicate the mover’s indulging attitude towards Weigh, Time, Space or Flow; the other four effort qualities reveal fighting attitudes, in which the mover appears to be struggling against Weight, Time, Space, or Flow.        

 

In Mastery of Movement, Laban applies these metaphors to develop a continuum of personality types, noting that “The fighting against or indulging attitude towards a motion factor form the basic aspects of the psychological attitudes of hatred and love.  So it is useful if the artist realizes how these two poles of emotion are related to other forms of inner attitude, and how their relationship is mirrored in the movements of different characters.”

 

Find out more about Laban’s movement metaphors in the upcoming MoveScape Center correspondence course, “Mastering Laban’s Mastery of Movement.

Unlocking Laban’s Legacy

I began my blogs this year by looking back. Now I want to look forward – to how the past accomplishments of pioneers of movement study can enrich present and future generations.

Unlocking Laban’s Legacy

Rudolf Laban’s assertion that human movement has a harmonic structure analogous to musical harmony is one idea I would like to see taken seriously enough to be tested. While I have presented Laban’s notions in detail in The Harmonic Structure of Movement, Music, and Dance, this is not enough.

Consequently, I am launching the Advanced Movement Harmony project later this year. With measured steps, I intend to present the Choreutic and Eukinetic sequences identified by Laban in comprehensible forms that can be embodied. Many of these effort and space sequences have been published, by Laban and by others. But these representations are scattered, and in some cases, very difficult to understand, let alone embody.

So stay tuned. More about this project as the year unfolds!

More Archival Traces of Bartenieff

Irmgard Bartenieff’s letters to Rudolf Laban, as I mentioned in the previous blog, also reveal how she adapted to American culture and redefined herself as a professional – moving beyond dance into physical therapy, dance therapy, and dance anthropology.

More Archival Traces of Bartenieff

In a letter to Laban dated July 21, 1944, Irmgard wrote:

“I went into my work with the sick abnormal body with this curiosity, and I discovered, while always working with the sick as well as with the average untrained working person, how deeply buried the joy and understanding of movement is in most people – to a degree that we really cannot be astonished about the small audiences dancers get.”

Later, in her letter to Laban dated October 12, 1947, Bartenieff added:

“As you probably remember, this ‘insulated’ business of what we used to call ‘Kunsttanz’ [art dance] has never fully given satisfaction to me – I am much rather an artisan with good tools and alert senses to perfect and understand movement in its many manifestations and work with many different people. And for that here in America is ample opportunity.”

The Laban community is very fortunate that so many archival traces are still available for study. There is still much to be learned from the pioneers of our field. Find out more in the next blog.

Movement Study Anniversaries — Past and Present

Continuing the January theme of looking back and forward, 2017 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Language of Dance Center UK and the twentieth anniversary of the Language of Dance US. The LOD centers are dedicated to the promotion of movement literacy by linking dance notation with creative dance exploration and education.

Movement Study-Anniversaries

To commemorate these milestones, a celebration was held on October 28, 2017, at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.This event included a free workshop followed by a panel discussion on applications of the Language of Dance in the UK, US, Mexico, and Japan. A gala party followed, which also honored dance notation pioneer and LOD founder, Ann Hutchinson Guest, on the happy occasion of her 99th birthday.

Looking forward, the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS) is celebrating its fortieth anniversary with a conference in New York City May 31- June 2. Since 1978, the Institute has carried the mission of preserving, teaching, and advancing Laban-based movement studies.

As a member of the Founding Board of LIMS and one of the honorary conference chairs, I look forward to the event, which will not only honor movement analysis pioneer Irmgard Bartenieff but also highlight the many applications of movement study in all walks of life.

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.

Dance and the Written Word

Dance is a nonverbal art. Yet, as practitioners of an evanescent art, writing is often quite important to dancers. Nijinsky kept a diary. Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Agnes DeMille, and Paul Taylor produced autobiographies. Isadora Duncan wrote essays on the dance, as did Merce Cunningham and Murray Louis. Doris Humphrey and Twyla Tharp have addressed creative issues in dance. Katherine Dunham, whose career spans anthropology and performance, has written profusely.

Dance-Written-Word

 

The list goes on and on. Dance may be a nonverbal art, but dancers are hardly silent on this subject. And the written traces of their lives and work matter.

 

Written traces not only include published works but the much larger body of correspondence, notes, sketches, diaries, photographs, even invoices. From these scattered sources a fuller picture of the individual artist emerges – their friends and family, their private thoughts, their challenges as well as their successes.

 

For example, the dance scholar Juana de Laban’s archive is housed at the Dallas Public Library. Dr. de Laban, my undergraduate dance history teacher at Southern Methodist University, was the eldest daughter of Rudolf Laban’s second marriage. Her correspondence with her father, dating from after World War II, paints a much different picture of Laban’s family relations than what is usually recounted in other sources.  

 

For this reason, the opening of the Irmgard Bartenieff Archive in the Performing Arts Library at the University of Maryland, College Park, is cause for celebration. More about this miracle in the next blog.

Laban Prevails

At the recent Bartenieff Symposium, Martha Davis lamented the loss of seminal works in nonverbal communication research.  During the 1960s, there was lots of money for research. While she assisted Irmgard Bartenieff at Albert Einstein Day Hospital, other researchers such as Ray Birdwhistell, Albert Scheflen, and William Condon would drop by for informal discussions of what they were doing.Today, no one reads their work; current students are advised not to read research it wasn’t done in the last five years.

Laban Prevails

 

But Laban prevails. Through thick and thin, organizations such as the Laban Guild, the Dance Notation Bureau, the Laban/Bartenieff Institute, and the Language of Dance Centres, along with other groups such as Eurolab, ICKL, and Motus Humanus, have provided basic and advanced training and opportunities for collegial exchange.

 

The Laban communities have produced a rich literature that is still read. The Laban community has continuity.

 

Movement study has always been interdisciplinary, and perhaps that is what keeps us going. In her Statement to the Press, when Bartenieff was being added to Laban Institute moniker, Irmgard noted:

 

“We need a place where the related disciplines which deal with human expression and physical function can enrich their knowledge – a center for comparison, analysis, and cross-fertilization of ideas from the whole field of movement study. It is my hope that here we will, in a true sense, strengthen the thinking which we begin to call holistic in science and in the arts.”

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.

Laban International

I’ve just returned from teaching master classes in Berlin for Eurolab, the European Association for Laban Bartenieff Movement Studies. With advanced students from Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia, England, the U.S, and the Netherlands, it is exciting to see how Laban’s ideas are again spreading internationally. Laban International

Before the First World War, artistic innovations and new ideas circulated freely in Europe. Two world wars and the Cold War changed all that. When I first taught for Eurolab in the early 1990s, the Berlin Wall had just come down. The scar left by the Wall was still visible, and the city itself felt isolated.

Fast forward 25 years, and, thanks to the EU, inter-continental travel across borders is much easier. Moreover, a common European currency encourages people from different countries to gather around subjects of mutual interest.  This was very much the spirit in my classes in Berlin. Despite some language differences, we shared the language of movement – and that is very encouraging.

Creating a Language For Movement

Around 1913, Rudolf Laban contemplated a career change from visual art to dance. But he recognized that unless a means could be found to record movement, dance was condemned to remain an ephemeral and consequently trivial art.

Creating-Language-Movement

 

In developing a language and symbol system for dance and movement, Laban thought visually. The theoretical models he developed are geometrical, not linguistic. This is both the beauty and the challenge of Laban Movement Analysis.

 

In recognizing that human movement is a psychophysical phenomenon, Laban saw that his language of movement had to capture two domains – the physical actions that unfold in the space of the outer environment and the movement of thought and feeling as these evolve in the inner world, coloring physical actions and making them expressive.

 

For analytic purposes, these two domains had to be separately conceived. Hence, Laban created two geometrical models – one for the outer world of visible movement in space (the kinesphere) and one for the inner world of thought and feeling (the dynamosphere).

 

And here is Laban’s genius.  Because inner and outer are always connected in volitional action, Laban’s two geometrical models can be related. The dynamosphere can be nested within the kinesphere.  

 

Find out more about the brilliance of Laban’s geometrical language of movement in the forthcoming course, Decoding Choreutics.