Introducing the Rudolf Laban Archive

Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) created a system of analysing movement characteristics, pathways through space, and the 'effort', 'shape' and 'drive' of a movement. Known today as Laban Movement Analysis, he also used the terms Choreutics (space) and Eukinetics (effort). Laban also developed a system of movement notation, known as Kinetography Laban or Labanotation for documenting professional dance practice. His work based in England after the second World War inspired educational dance, acting, therapy, and workplace assessment.

 

The Archive, dating largely from 1938-1958, preserves the unique personal archive of the 20th century's foremost movement theorist.

What is on Digital Dance Archives?

A selection of artwork by Laban of figures and geometric forms, as well as archival videos of Laban explaining his ideas and workshops held at the Art of Movement studios in Addlestone, with Lisa Ullman. The drawings include the platonic solids:

  • Cubes
  • Dodecahedrons
  • Icosahedrons
  • Icosidodecahedrons
  • Tetrahedrons

History and Context

Born in the Kingdom of Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Laban spent his childhood in the courtly circles of Vienna and the central towns of Bratislava, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Influenced by the 'romantic natural philosophy' popular in the late nineteenth century in Germany and the philosophy of Plato's Timaeus, he sought a disciplined but integrated understanding of art.

Having studied art in Paris, Laban went on to stage carnivals in Munich. Under the influence of seminal dancer/choreographer Heidi Dzinkowska, Laban began to concentrate on Bewegungskunst, more commonly called Ausdruckstanz, or the movement arts. In Switzerland during WWI, he worked with his student Mary Wigman on a new dance style, now called German Expressionist Dance, which took root in Germany in the 1920s. During this decade, Laban taught, choreographed, and performed in Germany, while developing his movement notation with a group of students, who included Albrecht Knust and Kurt Jooss.

One of his great contributions to dance was his 1928 publication of Kinetographie Laban, a dance notation system that came to be called Labanotation and still used today in many different contexts. His theories of choreography and movement served as one of the central foundations of modern European dance. This aspect of his work was closely related to his personal spiritual beliefs, based on a combination of Victorian Theosophy, Sufism, and popular fin de si├Ęcle Hermeticism.

Laban was appointed choreographer and director of movement for the Prussian State Theatres in 1930, a position he held when the Nazis came to power. In 1936, he organised the international dance competition held alongside the Berlin Olympics although he was dismissed from involvement in the Olympics themselves. In 1937, he left Germany for Paris, and the following year, joined Jooss at Dartington Hall in Devon, England.

Most of the material in the Archive dates from the final twenty years of Laban's life. During this time he produced a large volume of writings and artwork detailing his enquires into the phenomenon of movement. Laban's work in industry also developed throughout the 1940s, and with Lisa Ullman he opened the Art of Movement Studio in Addlestone, Surrey. In the final years of his life he published texts such as Modern Educational Dance and Mastery of Movement on the Stage.

Year Event
1879 Rudolf Laban born in Polony in the Kingdom of Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire
1902-07 Studies and works in Paris, as artist
1915 Established the Choreographic Institute in Zurich, working with student Mary Wigman on a new dance style, now known as German Expressionist Dance
1920s Taught, choreographed, and performed in Germany
1927 Develops movement notation with a group of students, including Albrecht Knust and Kurt Jooss
1928 Publishes Kinetographie Laban, a dance notation system that came to be called Labanotation
1930 Appointed Director of choreography and movement for the Prussian State Theatres
1936 Organised an international dance competition held alongside the Berlin Olympics
1937-8 Leaves Germany for Paris and joins Kurt Jooss at Dartington Hall in England
1938-1940 Creates the majority of his artwork inquiring into the principles of movement
Early 1940s Laban develops his work in industry, in collaboration with F.C. Lawrence, known as Laban-Lawrence Industrial Rhythm. The system analysed the movements of workers in factory production lines, and devised more effective means of carrying out tasks. Clients included Tyresoles, J. Lyons & Co., Pilkington's Tiles, and Mars Confections
1942 Moved with Lisa Ullmann to Manchester
1946 Ullmann opens the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester
1948 Publishes Modern Educational Dance
1950 Publishes Mastery of Movement on the Stage
1953 Art of Movement Studio moves to Addlestone, Surrey
1958 Laban dies

The Archive is located at the National Resource Centre for Dance, University of Surrey, and contains:

  • Over 1,000 pieces of artwork
  • Film footage, photographs and books
  • Over 4,000 files of papers
  • Diaries and notebooks

Materials in this collection are covered by copyright see Terms of Use