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RepositoryNational Resource Centre for Dance Archive
Ref NoL
Alt Ref NoGB 1881 L
DescriptionThe Rudolf Laban Archive dates predominantly from the last 20 years of Laban's life, 1938-1958, the years he spent in England, although his earlier life and work are also represented. The majority of the files of papers are unpublished writings. Ranging from notes written in pencil to completed, typed book chapters, these materials show Laban charting new territory and taking his theories further than his published writings demonstrate. As Laban never dated his papers, it is difficult to know whether he brought the papers in German (over 1,000 files) with him, or continued to write in German during his first years in England.
The papers include personal correspondence, early forerunners of the notation system, production scripts of Laban's choreography, and other examples of Laban's creativity, such as poems and stories. The archive houses substantial material on Laban-Lawrence Industrial Rhythm, Laban's work in industry with F.C. Lawrence and Warren Lamb.
Of importance are the thousands of drawings by Laban. Showing human figures surrounded by geometric forms, or simply the forms themselves, the drawings represent Laban's working out of his theories and are integral to understanding them. While predominantly of the five Platonic Solids, the drawings also depict knots, lemniscates, mobius strips, and other topological objects. The archive also contains architectural sketches, caricatures, landscapes, and portraits.
The archive's 800 photographs document Laban's life and work. They show him as a three-year-old, a dapper teenager, a bohemian artist in Paris, and a dancer and choreographer. Various photos taken in England show Laban teaching drama and dance students, working with Kurt Jooss, and lecturing on Industrial Rhythm. The silent films show him in later years doing movement scales. Footage from the 1940s records students practising 'effort' exercises with props in the Manchester studio and other students performing dances, probably by Ullmann, on the lawn. In addition, the Rudolf Laban Archive houses periodicals, programmes, posters, and scrapbooks.
ArrangementLisa Ullmann sorted the papers into the following subject categories:
Art in General
Art of Movement
Articles about Laban
Assessments, Reports, Records
Biographical Information
Books, Manuscripts, Outlines
Choreology (Effort)
Choreology (Space)
Choreology in General
Dance in General
Family Correspondence
Historical Data
Industrial Rhythm
Information from Others
Investigation into Movement Responses
Lecture Notes on Various Subjects
Man, Matter and Motion
Miscellaneous Notes
Movement in General
Movement Notation
Personal Statements
Philosophical Comments
Photostat and Newspaper Cuttings
Physiological - Scientific
Production Scripts
Psychological Implications
Rudolf Laban's Pupils
Stories, Poems, Drama, Music

The NRCD has maintained the archive as sorted by Lisa Ullmann although it can be difficult to work with for several reasons: (1) Some categories overlap, and the distinctions between similar categories is not clear. (2) It appears that papers were sorted several times and parts of the same essay or drafts of similar essays ended up in different categories. (3) There are many small files, containing only a few sheets of notes or initial thoughts, making the papers collection large and somewhat unwieldy. Laban often did not finish essays, leaving off to tackle the subject from a different angle in a new essay, and every initial attempt has been given an individual file, although not necessarily in the same category. (4) Hundreds of drawings have been filed with the papers although there is also a standalone drawings collection. In some cases the drawings within the papers file are integral to the text, but not necessarily. It is unclear why this division of drawings between two categories arose.
There is no box 30 in the papers collection as it contained photographs; it became box 7 of the photograph collection. Most of the drawings published in A Vision of Dynamic Space are found in the drawings collection, and these are noted in the catalogue. The film footage is uncatalogued at present.
Admin_HistoryMovement theorist Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) created a system of analysing movement characteristics, pathways through space, and the 'effort', 'shape', and 'drive' of a movement. The system is known today as Laban Movement Analysis, although he used the terms Choreutics (space) and Eukinetics (effort). Laban also developed a system of movement notation, known as Kinetography Laban or Labanotation. His work fed not only into professional dance practice, but also into educational dance, acting, therapy, and workplace assessment.
Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Laban studied art in Paris and went on to stage carnivals in Munich, where his interest in movement found form. 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.
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 as part of the Berlin Olympics. In 1937, he left Germany for Paris, and the following year, joined Jooss at Dartington Hall in England. In 1942, he moved with Lisa Ullmann to Manchester, where she opened the Art of Movement Studio in 1946. They moved the studio to Addlestone, Surrey, in 1953 where it became one branch of the Laban Art of Movement Centre.
The last 20 years of his life were spent in England, refining and writing down his movement theories, teaching, and developing his work in industry. The latter was created in the early 1940s in collaboration with F.C. Lawrence and known as Laban-Lawrence Industrial Rhythm. The system analysed the movements of workers in factory production lines and on farms and devised less stressful means of carrying out the tasks. Clients included Tyresoles, J. Lyons & Co., Pilkington's Tiles, and Mars Confections. Industrial Rhythm led onto Personal Effort Assessment, by which people applying for clerical, managerial, and other non-manual jobs were assessed for their suitability to the work.
Custodial_HistoryLaban left his personal archive, the Archives Laban, to Lisa Ullmann, his partner during the last 20 years of his life. She organised the archive and added to it, gathering early materials from Germany and elsewhere. Ullmann wanted the archive to go to the V&A/Theatre Museum, or to the NRCD. When the V&A turned down the archive, her executors deposited the archive, and Ullmann's own archive, at the NRCD around 1988. One executor, Ellinor Hinks, who had helped Ullmann organise the archive, continued to work on both collections until around 1997.
Seven boxes of papers on Industrial Rhythm were deposited by Warren Lamb in the late 1980s/early 1990s and initially known as the Warren Lamb Archive. These were merged into the Rudolf Laban Archive when Mr Lamb explained that he had borrowed the files from Ullmann for research. (The actual Warren Lamb Archive, which was deposited in 2004, contains a final box of Industrial Rhythm materials borrowed from Ullmann.)
Related MaterialLisa Ullmann Archive; Joan Russell Archive; Educational Dance-Drama Theatre Archive; Betty Meredith-Jones Collection; Audrey Wethred/Chloe Gardner Collection; International Council of Kinetography Laban/Labanotation (ICKL) Archive and Laban Art of Movement Guild Archive
Finding AidsComputer catalogue, card catalogue.
Extent4,604 files of papers, 1,081 drawings, 652 photographs, 115 books, 9 videos of film transfer, 3 posters, 11 theatre programmes, 162 periodicals, 1 object, 4 scrapbooks
Physical DescriptionThe film footage was transferred to video in the mid 1990s and transferred again to DVD and digital files as part of the Digital Dance Archives project in 2011
CopyrightCopyright in Rudolf Laban's unpublished material resides with the National Resource Centre for Dance. Copyright in Rudolf Laban's published material resides with his Trustees.
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