Laban, Rudolf von 1879-1958

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LABAN, Rudolf von 1879-1958

PERSONAL: Born December 15, 1879, in Pozsony, Austria-Hungary (now Bratislava), Hungary; immigrated to England, 1938; died July 1, 1958. Education: Attended architecture school of École des Beaux Arts.

CAREER: Choreographer, company director, dance and movement theorist, and teacher. Formed a dance school in Zurich, Germany, 1910; founded Choreographic Institute at Zurich, 1915, and created branches in Italy, France, and central Europe; choreographer and director of movement at Berlin State Opera, 1930-34; director of movement under Nazi Ministry of propaganda, 1934-36; after 1938, studied industrial efficiency in England; with Lisa Ullmann, formed Art of Movement Studio at Manchester, 1946. Choreographed large "movement choirs"; created Labanotation system for recording human movement.


Die welt des tänzers; fünf gedankenreigen, W. Seifert (Stuttgart, Germany), 1920.

Choreographie, E. Diederichs (Jena, Germany), 1926.

Gymnastik und Tanz, G. Stalling (Oldenburg, Germany), 1926.

Des kindes gymnastik und tanz, G. Stalling (Oldenburg, Germany), 1926.

Schrifttanz, Universal-edition (Vienna, Austria), 1928.

(Editor) Tanzfestspiele 1934, [Dresden, Germany], 1934.

Ein Leben für den Tanz, [Dresden, Germany], 1935, translation by Lisa Ullman published as A Life for Dance: Reminiscences, Theatre Arts Books (New York, NY), 1975.

Die tänzerische situation unserer zeit, ein querschnitt, C. Reissner (Dresden, Germany), 1936.

(With F. C. Lawrence) Laban/Lawrence Industrial Rhythm and Lilt in Labour, [Manchester, England], 1942.

(With F. C. Lawrence) Effort, [London, England], 1947, second edition, Macdonald & Evans (London, England), 1974.

Modern Educational Dance, Macdonald and Evans (London, England), 1948.

Mastery of Movement on the Stage, Macdonald and Evans (London, England), 1950.

Principles of Dance and Movement Notation, Macdonald and Evans (London, England), 1956, published as Laban's Principles of Dance and Movement Notation, Plays, Inc. (Boston, MA), 1975.

Choreutics, edited by Lisa Ullmann, [London, England], 1966, published as The Language of Movement: A Guidebook to Choreutics, Plays, Inc. (Boston, MA), 1966.

A Vision of Dynamic Space, compiled by Lisa Ullmann, [London, England], 1984.

SIDELIGHTS: After first working as an illustrator and graphic artist, Rudolf von Laban decided to dedicate his life to creating a new kind of dance. Unimpressed by the theatrical dance that was common during the early twentieth century and concerned that dance was disappearing from the lives of ordinary people, his response helped to lay the foundations for European modern dance. He became a successful choreographer and artistic director, as well as an influential theoretician. He developed a form of movement notation called Labanotation with the hope that it would help elevate the intellectual status of dance. Labanotation and the later evolution of Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), has since impacted many other fields of study, including industrial efficiency, physical education, and psychology. Laban wrote numerous works on his theories about dance, movement, education, and choreography. The earliest of these books are written in German; after Laban moved to England in 1938, he published in English.

A Hungarian, Laban studied in Paris and traveled extensively before forming his first dance school in Germany in 1910. For a time he taught Mary Wigman, who would become the most prominent German modern dancer of the era. By 1920 he was deeply involved in experimental performances that included nudity, group improvisation, dance without music, and abstract choreography. He appeared in performances with his companies the Tanzbühne Laban and the Kammertanzbühne Laban until he was injured in 1926. Laban also created large-scale choric works which relied on his system of dance notation to share the choreography with amateur participants in other locations. In this way, he found a means of offering creative dance experiences to the average person. Working as an educator, Laban wrote books on dance philosophy, movement analysis, notation, and dance study for children and adults. He also created the Choreographic Institute, a then rare venue for advanced dance study.

These achievements made Laban a notable figure in Germany and helped him land the position of choreographer and director of movement at the Berlin State Opera in 1930. Four years later he found himself working for the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda, but when his choreography for a program at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin failed to glorify National Socialism and instead championed individual expression, Laban was removed from the job. Under virtual house arrest, he struggled with extreme poverty and illness until he was able to go to Great Britain in 1938. There, he was helped by former students and given work by F. C. Lawrence. Laban applied his understanding of movement in the study of industrial efficiency. He found industrial work less stressful if slower movements improved efficiency over quick, awkward actions. He also gave factory workers corrective exercises to improve their comfort and performance.

Laban went on to introduce creative dance as a recreational activity in Great Britain. He wrote several books during this period, including two with F. C. Lawrence, Laban/Lawrence Industrial Rhythm and Lilt in Labour and Effort. Two works published posthumously, Choreutics and A Vision of Dynamic Space, as well as the translation A Life for Dance: Reminiscences were made possible by the work of Lisa Ullmann, who co-founded the Art of Movement Studio at Manchester with Laban in 1946.

In the Journal of Physical Education, Ed Groff considered the continued importance of Laban's work, particularly in the use of Laban Movement Analysis in the United States. Groff commented, "Laban did not leave a legacy of choreographic masterpieces, nor a recognizable distinct dance vocabulary or technique, yet he is praised as having made a major contribution to dance and movement study in the twentieth century." The writer further asserted, "His ambition to give to the art of dance and movement study an intellectual identity, a theoretical system capable of articulating movement experience enabling it to be documented, preserved, and analyzed, has contributed to the rising status of dance as a primary art, and laid a foundation for a scientific examination of movement within a variety of disciplines."



International Dictionary of Modern Dance, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, February, 1995, Ed Groff "Laban Movement Analysis: Charting the Ineffable Domain of Human Movement," p. 27.*