Vera Maletic: Body–Space–Expression: The Development of Rudolf Laban’s Movement and Dance Concepts (1987)

4 June 2014, dusan

“In May 1926, when the choreographer Rudolf von Laban came to America on an ethnographic mission to record Native American dances, a reporter accosted him before he had even stepped ashore. As Laban recounts in his autobiography, the journalist performed a wild tap dance on deck, proffered his starched cuff to the European dance artist, and said, ‘Can you write that down?’ Laban—who had pioneered a new grammar of movement called Kinetography, or script-dance—scribbled a few dance notation signs on the man’s sleeve. The hyperbolic headline announcing Laban’s arrival read: ‘A New Way to Success. Mr. L. Teaches How to Write Down Dances. You Can Earn Millions With This.’ One entrepreneur, tempted by that prospect, tracked Laban down at his hotel and offered him a fabulous amount of money to teach the Charleston and other dances by correspondence course. Laban spurned the get-rich-quick scheme: he did not want to be a part of what he dismissed as ‘robot-culture.’ 

To the untrained eye, Kinetography looks esoteric and occult, but to the few who can read it the complex strips of hieroglyphs allow them to recreate dances much as their original choreographers imagined them. Dance notation was invented in seventeenth-century France to score court dances and classical ballet, but it recorded only formal footsteps and by Laban’s time it was largely forgotten. Laban’s dream was to create a ‘universally applicable’ notation that could capture the frenzy and nuance of modern dance, and he developed a system of 1,421 abstract symbols to record the dancer’s every movement in space, as well as the energy level and timing with which they were made. He hoped that his code would elevate dance to its rightful place in the hierarchy of arts, ‘alongside literature and music,’ and that one day everyone would be able to read it fluently.” (from Christopher Turner’s essay in Cabinet magazine, 2009/10)

The intent of this present study is to offer an examination of the origins and development of Laban’s key concepts.

Publisher Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin/New York/Amsterdam, 1987
Volume 75 of Approaches to Semiotics
ISBN 3110107805, 9783110107807
265 pages
via joandleefe

Review (Valerie Preston-Dunlop, Dance Research, 1988)

PDF (40 MB)

See also works on Laban on Monoskop wiki.

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