Laban Movement Choir Project

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About the project . . .

Running for several years since the end of the Laban International Summer Schools.

Further information to follow.

Project Dates for 2012-13 About Rudolf (von) Laban


Dates for 2012

To be confirmed.

For all enquiries please use the ‘Contact Us’ page . . ..

Dates for 2013

To be confirmed.

Biography of Rudolf Laban


Varatjai vereknyei esliget falyi Laban Rezso Keresztelo Szent Janos Attila, better known as Rudolf Laban, was born on the 15th of December 1879 in Bratislava, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, an officer in the army, hoped that his son would follow a similar career, and Laban did attend a military school hut, after only a short stay, he decided that his real interest was art and at the age of twenty-one he went to study in Paris. He tells us that in 1894, as a youth of fifteen, whilst walking in the mountains he was moved by a particularly beautiful sunrise and felt the urge to convey what he felt to others. "But how? In words, in music, in paint? But it was all too rich for that . . . I moved. I moved for sheer joy in all this beauty and order; for I saw order in it all. I saw something which is absolutely right, something which had to be so. And I thought there is only one way I can express all this. When my body and soul move together they create a rhythm of movement; and so I danced" (1).


This was the starting point of his study of people's movement, not only their dancing but their work and their acting, in order to increase his own knowledge and capacity to communicate; thereafter to pass on this experience to others once he had achieved this in himself. He was given an ideal opportunity to implement this study, for he always accompanied his father to whichever place his father was posted. Thus he was able to study not only the cultures of the countries bordering Czechoslovakia but also those in the Near East and North Africa. This study provided a basis for his future work.


He studied in Paris from 1900 to 1907 and pursued various courses of study at the Ecole de Beaux Arts, During this time he showed special interest in stage design, drama and dancing, theatre architecture, décor and costumes. He appeared with a troupe in Montmartre, at the Moulin Rouge, under the stage name of 'Attila de Varalja'; the money he earned probably helped him to pursue his studies. A design for a 'Saltarium' won him a gold medal, but the design was far ahead of the building techniques of the time. Twenty years later an attempt was made to erect his 'Saltarium' at a Chicago World Fair; this was not possible, as the technical difficulties were too great. He also began his first experiment with the dance script that later became known as 'kinetography.' There is a thread running through all these apparently unrelated activities, an interest in the 'action' type of artistic activity. Laban was not drawn to an art form that relied on solitude and required solitary endeavour; he was committed to an art which needed active participation from more than one person. His deep-seated interest in people; their life and their movement seems to have dictated the courses of study he undertook and the activities in which he participated.


In 1910 he founded what, for want of a better term, he called a 'dance farm,' at Lago Maggiore, at which the whole community, after work, produced dances based on their occupational experiences. The 'dance farm' idea sprang from Laban's desire to lead people back to a life in which art grew from their experiences.  In order to do this they had to be brought out of the towns, for, in Laban's opinion, the "aim of man was his festive existence, not in the way of gluttony and uselessness, but as a means of developing his personality, as a chance to lift him into those spheres of life which distinguish man from animal." (2) Through this experience of the 'dance farm' he realised more and more that his 'dramas, songs and movement-scenes, in spite of the occasional use of the spoken word, did not belong to drama or opera but to the world of dance.'(3)


For the three years immediately prior to the First World War, Laban, as well as directing the Lago Maggiore summer festivals at Ascona in Switzerland directed the movement experience at a self-sustaining art colony there. At these festivals spectators were admitted but they usually ended up by joining in. Perhaps these festivals contributed towards the idea of a dance form which was natural for all people, which subsequently led to the movement choir. He was seeking a dance drama that did not use the formal techniques of mime and classical ballet. By this time he seems to have formulated his method of training dancers but his philosophy of dance was still, as yet, unformulated (4). It was here also that he began his studies of space patterns and harmonies.


The outbreak of the First World War stopped work on the building of an open-air theatre that Laban had begun. He went to live in Zurich from 1915 to 1918, abandoning the festivals at Ascona and Munich. He began to work on his dance notation and on 'choreology', which he termed research into the art of movement. More and more his research stressed the nature and rhythms of space harmonies. During this time he established his own dance school in Zurich, where he staged several productions.


After the war 'Die Welt des Tänzers' (The Dancers World) was published by Walter Seifert of Stuttgart. Laban was called to the National Theatre in Mannheim to re-establish ballet and movement by the presentation of his own productions (5). It was in Hamburg in 1922 that Laban first produced Swinging Cathedral, which "became one of our greatest successes with public and press"(6). By 1923 Laban had established dance schools in Basle, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Prague, Budapest, Zagreb, Rome, Vienna and Paris. Each of these was named after Laban and was directed by a former Laban master pupil. The work of these schools, directly responsible for "the rediscovery of dance as a means of education and therapeutic treatment in our time, originated undoubtedly from the aesthetic pleasure experienced by some teachers, doctors and industrial welfare workers when watching performances of modern stage dance. They came to us, the modern dancers, at first sparsely, one by one, but later in increasing numbers, to ask `Couldn't you do this kind of thing with our children, our patients, our workmen?' So we did it, and with quite unexpected results"(7).


Each Laban school had a 'movement choir,' as an integral part of the school. In places where there was no Laban school he established movement choirs. The term 'movement choir' was coined during this period, but in fact the principle had been established before the war, at Ascona. Spectators who had witnessed a performance of his work had been inspired to do something themselves and so they had asked Laban to lead them in dance for their own pleasure. This was called a 'layman's dance group' but it was a movement choir in all but name (8). In such a 'choir' the dancers are divided into three main groups in the following way: those having crisp erectness and elevation are called high dancers, those having a swinging heaviness are called middle dancers, those with an impulsive heaviness are called deep dancers. Laban himself was a deep dancer, as were Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss, two of his most eminent pupils (9). His dance works ranged from compositions for small groups (Kammer Tanz) to compositions for huge movement choirs, and from recreative dancing for the untrained to works for trained dancers in theatres: During this time he produced Faust and Prometheus, using a speech choir.


In 1926 Laban's Choreographic Institute, which until then had been in Würzburg, was moved to Berlin. He also founded a union for dancers, who at that time had no protection of this sort. The foundation of a centre where standards could be set and where educational and artistic matters could be discussed was a direct outcome of the union. At this time he became concerned with questions of copyright for dancers. He published 'Des Kindes Gymnastik und Tanz' (The Child's Gymnastik and Dance) and 'Gymnastik und Tanz fuer Erwaschsene' (Gymnastics and Dance for adults) by Stalling of Oldenburg. At the end of the year he visited America and Mexico and lectured in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. It was during this visit that he met and influenced Irma Otte-Betz, who was the pioneer of American interest in the complex subject of notation and its further development.


The first Dancers' Congress was held in Magdeburg in 1927 and for this occasion Laban produced 'Titan'. Towards the end of the following year Laban's book Schrifttanz, (10) presenting his recently formulated system of movement notation, was published. The object of this publication was to enable a dance to be reconstructed exactly from the written form. This method of notation received public acclaim at the Dancers' Congress at Essen and, soon after, the Society for Script Dance was formed. This society produced a magazine 'Schrifttanz' (11) for about four years.


In 1929 Laban directed a huge pageant involving 10,000 performers, 2,500 of who were dancers, for the Crafts and Guilds of Vienna. Also during this year he directed a movement choir of five hundred for the Mannheim Festival. These two festivals gave him the opportunity to "go into factories and workshops and study their basic movements" (12). The opportunity was not wasted, for it contributed greatly to his "interest in the improvement of working movement and the psychological attitudes of industrial man"(13). As a result of this he began a type of movement consultancy, which was put on a professional basis only when he joined Lawrence at the beginning of the Second World War. Also during 1929 Laban, at the request of the director, transferred his Choreographic Institute from Berlin to the dance department of the Volkwangschule in Essen. This was a municipal centre for a professional training in the arts and where the training in art, dance, drama and music was of a very high standard. This school already had two of Laban's former pupils on the staff: Kurt Jooss, as the director; and Sigurd Leeder, as the principal movement teacher. They were soon to be joined, at the invitation of Jooss, by Lisa Ullmann, so it is not surprising that the Volkwangschule developed into the Laban Central School. This year also saw Laban's first experiments with the making of soundtracks far dance films.


In 1930 he moved to Berlin to become director of the Allied State Theatres, a position he held for the next four years. It was during 1932 that the work of Laban came to Great Britain. Lesley Burrows had just returned to England after completing her training at the Mary Wigman School in Dresden and had established a dance studio in Chelsea (14). Joan Goodrich, about to take up an appointment at Bedford College of Physical Education, had been given permission to undertake an extra year's course in dance at the expense of the college and she decided to spend the year at the Lesley Burrows Studio. She spent two months, at the end of that year, at the Mary Wigman School, where the work "centred around the development of the body as an instrument of expression. Exploration of the possibilities was infinite with no limitations. Beyond that the main headings for training were tension, relaxation, swing, spring, impact and impulse. Dance composition and movement observation were included, but the analysis was not along the lines introduced by Laban into England" (15). It is of interest to note that Mary Wigman, one of Laban's eminent pupils, was, even at this time, developing her own movement analysis. Diana Jordan, after expressing an interest in the work of Laban, was recommended by Joan Goodrich to attend the Lesley Burrows Studio. Before embarking on the three years' training, Diana Jordan went to the Mary Wigman School during the summer of 1935. The value of the work in Dresden was, in her opinion, of enough value to encourage her to embark on training from 1936 to 1938 under Lesley Burrows. During this period of training Miss Burrows was joined by Louise Solberg, an American, who had trained under Laban.


In 1935 'Ein Leben fur den Tanz' (A Life for the Dance) was published by Carl Reissner Verlag of Dresden. Laban's effective work in Germany was brought to an end in 1936. He had been responsible for all the movement that had been staged in connection with the Olympic Games and had choreographed an open-air production for one thousand performers in Berlin. He had notated the parts for this production and sent them to the participants, who formed sixty different movement choirs drawn from thirty European towns and cities. At the dress rehearsal 20,000 guests were present including representatives of the Nazi government who did not share in the enthusiastic reception. "The performance never took place because it was prohibited and so were all my other activities" (16). Laban's work was declared 'staatsfeindlich', 'against the State' (17) being regarded as not sufficiently nationalistic and too universal to be acceptable to the Nazi party. His work was banned throughout Germany and he was banished to the Schloss Banz in Staffelberg.


Laban spent the winter of 1937 in Staffelberg resting and recuperating. During his stay the village schoolmaster experimented with Laban's ideas on movement with his class. Laban was very interested in the method this master used to teach the children to draw. Laban felt that the children's drawings helped him towards understanding "the unknown state of the subconscious, released into conscious form through the mind of an uninfluenced child" (18). It is typical of Laban that no further mention is made of this in any autobiographical notes to which I have had access. In the discussions that ensued about the "different forms taken by living phenomena" (19) Laban made use of the crystal forms, which were used in conjunction with his spatial theories. He emigrated to Paris, where illness caused him to be inactive, but he did lecture at the Sorbonne and at the International Congress on Aesthetics.


During 1934 and 1935 Lisa Ullmann and Kurt Jooss had arrived in England. Jooss had gone to Dartington Hall in 1934 whilst Lisa Ullmann had, in 1935, established at Plymouth the first movement choir in the country, under the auspices of the Workers' Educational Association. Laban arrived in England on the 8th of January 1938 and went to the Jooss-Leeder Dance School at Dartington Hall. Here he recuperated and lectured on the art of movement and the history of dance. His research at this time centred on the psychological effects of movement. When the area around Plymouth became a defence area shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War and the prospect of invasion seemed imminent, Laban and Miss Ullmann moved to London. Here, in July 1940, Laban held his first movement course for teachers at the invitation of Burrows, Jordan and Solberg. This was the first of the 'Modern Dance Holiday Courses' which were held until 1961 at such places as Moreton Hall School, Chichester Training College, Dartington, Ashridge and the Chelsea College of Physical Education (20). When the bombing in London became severe, Laban and Miss Ullmann moved to North Wales, near Aberystwyth. Here Miss Griffith-Davies asked Miss Ullmann to take movement courses for teachers in mid-Wales as well as students attending the University College of Aberystwyth and Chelsea College of Physical Education, which had been evacuated to Borth, near Aberystwyth.


In April 1941, Miss Ullmann and Laban were invited by the Ling Physical Education Association to give a lecture demonstration at a conference held at St Margaret's School, Bushey, in Hertfordshire. For this conference it was decided that the demonstration would not be entitled 'Central European Dance' but 'Modern Dance'. By 1942 it was felt that 'Modern Dance' was no longer adequate as a title. After considerable discussion it was decided that 'Modern Educational Dance' was more apposite since this indicated the emphasis as well as the field in which this dance form was appropriate.


It was also during this same year, 1942, that Laban was asked to investigate the possibility of applying movement notation to industrial processes. The recording of industrial rhythms had, until then, been accomplished by filming the process, but this was no longer possible because of the shortage of film. The need to find some method by which women could be trained to do jobs previously done by men made it imperative to find another way of recording movement. Kinetography was just such a method and F. C. Lawrence, a prominent Manchester industrialist and now vice president of the Laban Art of Movement Guild, because of the urgency of the situation, sent his niece to study notation. Laban's invitations to Manchester were so frequent that he decided to move there and thus began his association with Lawrence. Their 'Book on Effort', published in 1947, was one outcome of their liaison. Until 1953 Laban continued to work in Manchester, applying his theories and analysis of movement, in terms of effort, to various fields.


In 1946 Lisa Ullmann, who had been his close associate since pre-war days, opened her 'Art of Movement Studio' in Manchester. This became the centre for educational dance in England. The curriculum was based on Laban's space harmonies and his theories of the exploration of expressive movement through effort patterns. Laban lectured at the 'Studio', at Leeds University and at the theatre school of the Bradford Civic Playhouse, as well as producing plays in Bradford in association with Esme Church.


Two years after the foundation of the Art of Movement Studio, Laban published 'Modern Educational Dance', (21) perhaps the most widely read and therefore the most significant of his books. In the following year, 1949, the first Ministry-aided course in modern educational dance, having eleven students, began at the 'Art of Movement Studio' in Manchester. In 1950 Laban published 'The Mastery of Movement on the Stage' (22). Three years later Laban moved to Addlestone, Surrey, where there were facilities large enough not only for him to carry on his own work and archives, but also to house the 'Art of Movement Studio'. In an attempt to perpetuate his work, it was thought to form an organisation through which his work might become more widely known and to provide a centre for all those using Laban's principles of movement. In 1954 the 'Laban Art of Movement Centre' was founded as an educational trust and it was during this year that 'Principles of Dance and Movement Notation' was published.


Laban devoted the later years of his life to research into various aspects of movement and to lecturing at the Studio.


Rudolf Laban died on 1st July 1958. Eight years after Laban's death, 'Choreutics' annotated and edited by Lisa Ullmann, was published. To date, this is the last published work attributable to Rudolf Laban.




1. Laban Art of Movement Guild Magazine, March I956, p.9.

2. Ibid, October 1955, p. 16.

3. Ibid, p.17.

4. Ibid, December 1954, p.7.

5. Laban's dance dramas were as follows: 1912 - The Earth, 1922 - Swinging Cathedral, 1925 - Don Juan, 1925 - The Fool's Mirror (Der Narrenspiegel), 1927 - Titan.

6. Laban Art of Movement Guild Magazine, October 1955, p.19.

7. Ibid, May I959, p20.

8. Ibid, March 1956, p.25.

9. S. Bodmer, Interview in 'A Movement Perspective of Rudolf Laban' (Sam Thornton) Appendix 2, p.122.

10. It is uncertain whether the title of this book is 'Schrifttanz' or 'Kinetographie Laban'.

11. 'Schrifttanz', published by Universal Editions, Vienna.

12. Laban Art of Movement Guild Magazine, December 1954, p.41.

13. Ibid, March 1955 p.8.

14. Jordan, Interview in 'A Movement Perspective of Rudolf Laban' (Sam Thornton), Appendix 2, p.129.

15. Goodrich, Letter in 'A Movement Perspective of Rudolf Laban' (Sam Thornton), Appendix 2, p.130.

16. Laban Art of Movement Guild Magazine, March 1955, p.9.

17. Bodmer, Interview, in 'A Movement Perspective of Rudolf Laban' (Sam Thornton), Appendix 2, p.122

18. Laban Art of Movement Guild Magazine, December 1954, p.22.

19. Ibid, p.22.

20. Ibid, p.33.

2I. A new edition, revised by Lisa Ullmann, appeared in 1963.

22. A revised edition, entitled 'Mastery of Movement', appeared in 1960.


Taken from - 'A MOVEMENT PERSPECTIVE OF RUDOLF LABAN' by Sam Thornton. McDonald & Evans. No longer in print

Images of Laban courtesy of Sylvia Bodmer & The Laban Centre.