Where it all began – the early days of the Faculty of Dance

The Art of Movement Studio (now the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban) first opened its doors to the public in January 1946 at 183-5 Oxford Road, Manchester. It was housed in rooms over a garage in a not particularly salubrious neighbourhood but it did have ‘a large room with windows all down one side and a reasonably well boarded floor’ (Thornton, p. 4).  The Studio was the result of a lot of hard work on the part of Lisa Ullmann and Rudolf Laban who, since arriving in Manchester in 1942, had been training students in the cellar of a large house in Palatine House, Didsbury, Manchester (Preston-Dunlop, p. 222). They had also been travelling the length and breadth of the UK conducting short courses and holiday courses and running a teachers’ training course for the past few years since Laban’s arrival in the UK in 1938.

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Photograph of Lisa Ullmann teaching Meg Tudor Williams, Mary Elding, Valerie Preston (later Preston-Dunlop), Warren Lamb and Hettie Loman at the Art of Movement Studio, 1947 [RefNo: LC/A/14/1/3]

Lisa Ullmann had trained at a Laban School in Germany and been on the teaching staff at Kurt Jooss’s Folkwangschule Essen (now the Folkwang University of the Arts). She came to England with Ballets Jooss in 1934 to teach at the Jooss-Leeder school at Dartington Hall. During this time, she set up and ran a movement choir and conducted evening classes for the Worker’s Educational Association in Plymouth and for teachers at the University of Exeter. She came across Rudolf Laban whilst passing through Paris in 1937 (Preston-Dunlop, p. 206). He had managed to escape Germany having fallen foul of the Nazi regime, but was now penniless and destitute. On her return to Dartington she must have discussed his plight with Kurt Jooss who then issued a personal invitation to Laban to come and stay at Dartington Hall, which he did in 1938.

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Prospectus for the Art of Movement Studio c1950 [RefNo:  LC/C/4/391.39]

 By 1945, the demand for dance training was such that  Lisa Ullmann and Rudolf Laban decided to set up a centre and took on a five-year lease of the Oxford Road premises. They had wanted to call the centre the ‘Basic Movement Studio’ to emphasise their view of movement as ‘a common denominator to life’ (Willson, p.32) but this title had already been taken so they settled instead for ‘The Art of Movement Studio’.

There is no formal record of how many students were first enrolled at the Studio when it opened but various sources suggest it was around eight. They were to be offered instruction by Rudolf Laban, Lisa Ullmann and Sylvia Bodmer and each student ‘had to pay either £96 for three twelve week terms, or £40 for a single term.’ (Willson, p. 34)

Classes focused on  ‘theoretical tuition and practical exercise based on the sudy of harmony and rhythm in movement’ (Quoted from the Studio prospectus below).

 

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The syllabus of the Art of Movement Studio, c1950 [RefNo: LC/C/4/391.39]

Dr Valerie Preston-Dunlop became a student at the Art of Movement Studio in 1947. Here she talks about some of the things that Rudolf Laban expected from her during the course of her studies there.


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Displays of dance were given at the Studio regularly, and as their work became more well known, students from the Studio were invited to perform at local halls and theatres.

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Notice of a performance given by the Art of Movement Studio in 1947. The Studio had been invited to perform by the Manchester Dance Circle, a group that had been set up by Sylvia Bodmer, a former student of Rudolf Laban. [RefNo: LC/C/1/391.44]

Sylvia Bodmer was one of the first tutors at the Studio. She had come to the UK in 1938 to escape the Nazi regime. Prior to this she had trained as a dancer at the Laban School in Stuttgart, Germany and performed with Rudolf Laban’s dance group at Gleschendorf in the 1920s. She had gone on to found a successful school in Frankfurt which provided choreography for the Frankfurt Opera House. On her arrival in the UK she began giving private movement lessons and by 1943 had set up the Manchester Dance Circle, a community dance group, to promulgate Rudolf Laban’s ideas. Whilst at the Art of Movement Studio, she founded the Young Dancers’ Group using the Studio’s advanced students. They performed at the Manchester Library Theatre and elsewhere in the local area to much acclaim.

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Photograph of members of the Young Dancers’ Group performing in Manchester, 1947. [RefNo: LC/A/17/2/7/16]

By 1950 the Art of Movement Studio was offering a selection of full and part-time courses and its student numbers had increased so much that it needed to find additional premises to rent nearby. Links were also being developed with the Unnamed Drama Society, with Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop and with the Northern Theatre School. As these activities widened it became obvious that the Studio needed to find a much larger and better equipped centre. Through the generosity of the wealthy, philanthropic Elmhirst family, an estate of sixteen acres at Addlestone, near Weybridge, Surrey was donated and in October 1954, the Laban Art of Movement Centre was established.

Our series continues next month with a closer look at Rudolf Laban – who was he and what was he like?

Bibliography:

Preston-Dunlop, V. (1998). Rudolf Laban: An extraordinary life. London, England: Dance Books Ltd.

Thornton, S. (1971). Studio 25. Addlestone: Art of Movement Studio

Willson, F.M.G. (1997). In Just Order Move: The progress of the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance 1946-1996. London, England: The Athlone Press.

 

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