Peter Brinson: “if I have looked into dance I have looked into life”

“I thought to myself, if I have looked into dance I have looked into life”

Note written by Peter Brinson, D12/2003/16/42/7, c1990s

So wrote Peter Brinson in the 1990s, near the end of a career dedicated to dance. But who was Brinson and why is he important to the history of the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance?


Peter Brinson giving a speech at Graduation Day at the Laban Centre (now the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban). With Mirella Bartrip and Sir Walter Bodmer. Undated. Photographer: Tony Nandi. RefNo: D11/A/10/2/42/2/1

Brinson was born in Llandudno on 1920. After serving in the Second World War he took first-class honours at Oxford University in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He then became Director of Research at the Film Centre in the early 1950s. It was around this time that he saw ‘The Green Table’, a ballet by Kurt Jooss, being performed at the Oxford Playhouse, and ‘Les Sylphides’ performed by what was then Sadlers Wells Ballet at Covent Garden, and became captivated by dance. He took two ballet classes a week for the next three years and regularly saw all the repertory of the Sadlers Wells Ballet thus building a knowledge of classical ballet. He began reviewing ballet performances for ‘The New Statesman’ , eventually becoming dance critic for ‘The Times’, the ‘Observer’, the ‘Sunday Times’ and the ‘Financial Times’ whilst also giving lectures on ballet and dance at Oxford, Cambridge and London universities. He also co-authored a book ‘The Choreographic Art’ with Peggy van Praagh which was the only book of its time to combine the history and practice of choreography [copies are available to view in the Laban Library and Archive]. He also wrote ‘Background to European Ballet’ which was the result of research funded by the Council of Europe and the British Council.

Brinson’s dance lectures for the Oxford University Extramural Department developed into lecture demonstrations where he would take dancers with him to demonstrate ballet technique and dance excerpts from classical ballets. Around this time Brinson was asked by the newly formed Gulbenkian Foundation, a charity focused on fostering knowledge and raising the quality of life of people throughout the fields of the arts, charity, science and education, to look at how the Foundation might help dance in the UK. He suggested that a small touring unit be formed that would tour nationally taking ballet into the towns and villages of the UK. He was invited to apply, successfully, for a grant for such a unit, and thus ‘Ballet for All’ was born in 1964.


Ballet for All developed a formula whereby a ballet master, six dancers, two pianists and two actor-narrators could both entertain and instruct, with scripts written by Peter Brinson in the form of ballet-plays. The dancers were seconded from the Royal Ballet Touring Company.


Front page of a ballet-play script by Peter Brinson for Ballet for All,  Oct 1973. [RefNo: D12/2003/16/81/1]

Ballet for All proved to be very popular and Brinson continued to lead it into the early 1970s. Its influence continues today as most major dance companies have educational units that are considered a crucial part of their work.

Following a brief spell as Director at the Royal Academy of Dancing in 1968-69, Brinson was offered the job of Director of the Gulbenkian Foundation in London which he took on in 1972 and held until 1982. It was here that he began his campaign for recognition of and help for the arts. He set up and chaired an inquiry into Dance Education and Training in Great Britain (published in 1980), which assembled for the first time, detailed statistics and laid out a national plan for dance. It was as a result of this inquiry that Europe’s first Dance Department, at the University of Surrey, was established in 1981.

Whilst still at the Gulbenkian Foundation, Brinson became the Chairman of the Dance Board at the  Council for National Academic Awards from 1975-1984, which validated the pioneering BA (Hons) in Dance Theatre at the Laban Centre (now the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban). During this time he also sat on the validation panels at London Contemporary Dance School, Middlesex Polytechnic (now University) and other centres.

In 1982 he left the Gulbenkian Foundation to join the Laban Centre (now the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban), a decision that Brinson writes about in a piece held in his collection in the Laban Archive – see below:


‘Something very new’ written by Peter Brinson, 1984, p. 1 [RefNo: D12/2003/16/41/4]

 At the Laban Centre Peter Brinson launched the one year Community Dance and Movement Course  (later validated as the Postgraduate Diploma in Community Dance) and became Head of Postgraduate Studies. He initiated the Sociology of Dance and Politics of Dance courses at undergraduate, MA and research levels and continued as a consultant at the Centre until his death in 1995. On his death, Peter Brinson’s papers were given to the Laban Library and Archive as the Peter Brinson Collection. The Collection can be accessed via the archive catalogue .

Brinson’s influence was in no way limited to the UK. As his reputation grew over the course of his career he was invited to speak at innumerable international conferences and to carry out research projects and write reports on dance for governments all over the world. He wrote many articles and papers and published many books over the course of his life – some of which are available in the Laban Library and Archive.

la-d-12-6-1Photograph of Peter Brinson and Simone Michelle, members of staff at the Laban Centre,  at a Laban Centre staff party, 1991. Photographer: ?Marion North. RefNo: LA/D/12/6/1

As Shirley McKechnie writes, when describing Peter Brinson,

“…he had the soul of an artist, the intellect of a philosopher, the astute mind of a politician, the tongue of a diplomat and the manner of a man of the world.”

McKechnie, p. 46


Brinson, Peter with Ralph, Richard. (1997). ‘Dance Memoirs’, Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research, Vol XV, No. 1. Summer 1997, pp 13-30

McKechnie, Shirley, (1997). ‘Voices from Austalia. A Tribute to Peter Brinson’, Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research, Vol XV, No. 1. Summer 1997, pp 31-48

Nugent, Ann, (1996). ‘In Memorium: Peter Brinson’, Dance Research Journal, 28/1 Spring 1996, pp 127-129

Ralph, Richard. (1997). ‘Peter Brinson’, Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research, Vol XV, No. 1. Summer 1997, pp 5-12



Summer visitors to the Laban Archive

So far this summer the Laban Archive has had a bumper crop of visitors from the United States!

Firstly we welcomed Mark Bocek, Media Specialist at the Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle.


Mark Bocek consulting the Bonnie Bird Collection in the Laban Archive

Mark has been researching the life and work of Bonnie Bird, an alumna of Cornish College who was one of the original dancers in the Martha Graham Dance Company back in 1930. Bonnie Bird’s career included heading the Cornish College Dance Department from 1937-1940 where she taught Merce Cunningham and worked with John Cage; helping found the American Dance Guild, the Dance Notation Bureau, and the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD), and working with youth dance education and special dance education for disabled children. And then at a time of life when most people would be considering settling down to a comfortable retirement, Bird was coaxed over to the UK by Marion North in 1974 to help the Laban Centre found  Britain’s first BA (Hons) degree in Dance Theatre studies, and subsequently Britain’s first MA and PhD degrees in Dance Studies, as well as setting up Transitions Dance Company, Britain’s foremost professional training company for young dancers. No wonder we have named our theatre after her!

Read more about Mark’s research into Bonnie Bird on his Cornish News post

And then we welcomed Professor Stacy Reischman Fletcher, Interim Director, School of Music, Professor and Chair, Department of Dance at the University of Southern Mississippi. Stacy brought four of her dance students with her to view items from the Laban Collection in the Laban Archive.

Jane and students from USM

Dance students from the University of Southern Mississippi with Jane Fowler, Archivist at the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban

They also had a tour of the building by Ralph Cox, Head of the Laban Library and Archive and a talk by Mirella Bartrip, Director of Dance, on the postgraduate courses we offer. And they came back in the evening to see our first year BA (Hons) Contemporary Dance students perform. We hope to see all of them back soon!


Explore Your Archive Week 14-22 November 2015

Yes its ‘Explore Your Archive’ week and to celebrate we’ve been to Monte Verita, aka the ‘Mountain of Truth’ in Ascona, Switzerland to attend the Laban Event 2015. The event spanned a weekend in October and was held in the Monte Verita Hotel, built between 1927 and 1929 by the architect Emil Fahrenkamp in the Bauhaus style. The hotel overlooks the beautiful Lake Maggiore whose surrounding banks are filled with sub-tropical vegetation which thrives in the area’s Mediterranean climate.

Monte Verita HotelHotel room in Monte Verita Hotel

Lake Maggiore, AsconaSub tropical plants on the banks of Lake Maggiore

Rudolf Laban first visited Monte Verita in May 1913 to explore the possibilities of starting a Summer School for the Arts. Monte Verita was already established as a centre for experimental living. A colony had arisen there in 1900 and nature cures, vegetarianism, psychoanalysis, anarchism and alternative approaches towards the body, sexuality and spirituality were being explored. Laban and his dancers fully arrived in June that year. They strived to live in harmony with nature by growing their own food, weaving cloth and making their own clothing. They danced outside, sometimes naked, experimenting with dynamic improvisations. It was here that Laban, with the help of Suzanne Perrottet and Mary Wigman, developed what is now called modern dance. And it was here that two of Laban’s first works, The Dancing Drumstick and Ishtar’s Journey into Hades, were created.

Laban used Schwungskalen, or swinging scales, as his basic training method for his dancers. These were large movements involving the whole body, with the directional framework provided by a body-sized octahedron or cube imagined around the mover. These scales continued to be developed by Laban into the A and B scales being sequences of twelve movements, located in the icosahedron. The Monte Verita Hotel has a sculpture of a life-size icosahedron in the grounds (see below), made by artist Miki Tallone, in an area designated as ‘Laban’s training area’.

A life-size icosahedron at Monte VeritaThere are many photographs in the Laban Archive of dancers moving in such structures. The image below shows Rudolf Laban in an icosahedron at a summer school at Ashridge, 1955, photographed by June Petit.


Rudolf Laban continued to run his summer schools, or dance farms, at Monte Verita every year until 1917. This era also saw him devote time to devising notation which was to become a major concern of his. The image below shows an example of Labanotation from the Laban Archive, written by Dr Valerie Preston-Dunlop as a ‘Thank You’ card sent out in 1949 after Rudolf Laban’s 70th birthday depicting the 12 sequences of movement representing 7 rings of similar shape.


The Laban Event was set up in 2013 to celebrate the centenary of Rudolf Laban’s first Summer School for the Arts, with an international conference at Monte Verita. A group of internationally renowned researchers was invited to share some of the guidelines that have been developed from the discoveries of Rudolf Laban. Alison Curtis-Jones, a member of the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, was commissioned by the Swiss Government to mount Suite ’24 and Nacht with Summit Dance Theatre, performed to acclaim at the Teatro San Materno, Monte Verita. The Laban Event 2014 focused on ‘dance for all’ and dealt with the theoretical and practical discourse regarding the educational and social role of dance. This included Alison Curtis-Jones presenting her current research on ‘Movement Choirs for Contemporary Audiences’, teaching master classes in her development of choreological practice for artistic and pedagogic practice and sharing her practical research on the notion of ‘community’, group cohesion and her use of proprioception to create Movement Choirs.

This year’s event, Laban Event 2015, comprised workshops, films and lectures with a common theme being  the use of archives in reimagining past choreographic works. Alison Curtis-Jones led movement workshops entitled ‘From archive to production: Contemporising the past, envisioning the future’. Stefano Tomassini and Karin Hermes gave detailed presentations on the remaking and restaging of choreographic works, in particular the re-enactment of Sacre by Cristina Rizzo and the restaging of Big City by Kurt Jooss. A fascinating panel discussion took place, chaired by Dr Patrick Primavesi, Professor at the Institute for Theatre Studies at the University of Leipzig and Director of the Dance Archive Leipzig, called  “Round Table on the Re” (re-productions, re-constructions, re-creations), where Valerie Preston-Dunlop told us about Laban’s first two works and how they were ‘research as practice’ in his attempt to discover the nature and rhythm of movement. On the second day of the conference, workshops on ‘Movement for actors and performers – a point of view’ were given by Maria Consagra and a Keynote presentation was given by Dr Valerie Preston-Dunlop on ‘Archeochoreology: finding a lost dance’. Valerie spoke about the need for ‘anarchic artistry in collaboration with your research’. She outlined how she had interviewed dancers who had worked with Laban and who told her that he worked by collaborating with them and that there was often live improvisation on stage – a ‘living in the moment’. (These interviews are available to be heard in the Laban Archive). She explained that Laban’s choreographic works didn’t have a fixed form – that they are open works and that the key to finding the essence of them is through creative rehearsal methods.

Valerie’s talk was complemented by sessions designed for archivists and researchers to meet and exchange information on their collections that relate to Rudolf Laban and what could be done to link them. Relevant collections are held all over the world and include:

  • the Laban Archive at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance which holds the Laban Collection, documenting the life and work of Rudolf Laban and his associates from the 1920s to the 1950s, as well as many other collections relating to the history of Laban the institution and to the development of contemporary dance
  • Tanzarchiv Leipzig e.V. has a Rudolf Laban Collection as well as others including Mary Wigman and Jenny Gertz
  • Dartington Hall Trust Archive has collections which include correspondence and photographs of Rudolf Laban, Kurt Jooss and Ballets Jooss. Their catalogue is searchable online. They also have moving image clips of dance performances and open days at Dartington from the 1930s and 1940s at the Dartington Film Archive, some of which is available to view on Youtube and Vimeo.
  • Special Collections, Leeds University Library holds the John Hodgson Collection which contains drawings, writings, posters, photographs and other material of Rudolf Laban. The collection can now be searched via an online catalogue and a Laban Collection guide has been written giving descriptive texts to some digitised images from the collection.
  • National Resource Centre for Dance at the University of Surrey is a non-profit national archive and resource provider for dance and movement. It holds a Rudolf Laban Collection as well as other Laban-related collections. Many of their collections can be searched on their online catalogue.
  • The Dance Notation Bureau holds Labanotation by Rudolf Laban and others.
  • The Centre National de la Danse holds the Albrecht Knust Collection of Labanotation scores and other papers. Some of these have been digitised and are searchable online.
  • Deutsches Tanzarchiv Koln holds collections of Harald Kreutzberg, Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss and many other Laban-influenced artists.
  • The Bedford Physical Education Archive at the University of Bedfordshire holds archive material bequeathed by former members of staff and students of Bedford Physical Training College (later the Bedford College of Physical Education and now the University of Bedfordshire) since its inception in 1903. It provides a unique insight into the early development of women’s physical education as well as the pioneering of Rudolf Laban’s ideas and methods of teaching dance.
  • The Akademie Der Kunste, Berlin holds archive collections of Mary Wigman and Valeska Gert as well as many others.

The culmination of the Laban Event 2015 was a presentation directed by Alison Curtis-Jones of a brilliant reimagining of the two works Laban had first created in Monte Verita back in 1913,  The Dancing Drumstick and Ishtar’s Journey into Hades, featuring Summit Dance Theatre, winners of the prestigious ‘Dance as Cultural Heritage’ award, music by Oli Newman and James Keane, costumes by Mary Fisher, consultant Valerie Preston-Dunlop and produced by Nunzi Tirelli and Giona Beltrametti. The performance took place at the Teatro del Gatto in Ascona and was rapturously received. The photograph below shows Summit Dance Theatre rehearsing Drumstick in the studio, photographed by Alison Curtis-Jones.

Drumstick rehearsalFor more information about Laban Event 2015, check out their website. For information about Summit Dance Theatre, find them on Facebook. And for more information about the archives and special collections held by both faculties at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, have a look at the Faculty of Dance and Faculty of Music pages.

Explore your archives!

Exercises in Empathy: an exhibition at the Site Gallery, Sheffield 25 July – 5 September 2015


In case you are around Sheffield at the moment, there is still time to see the exhibition Exercises in Empathy at the Site Gallery featuring choreutic models, photographs and documents from the Laban Archive, pictured above. The exhibition ‘explores how the body senses objects and responds to concepts and ideas through touch and movement. Photographs, film, sculpture and archival materials show how inner and outer worlds blur into each other. Acts of repetition, mirroring and meditation are used to examine the space between sensing and knowing, doing and thinking’ (Quoted from the Site Gallery website, 2015). Sara Cluggish, the curator of the exhibition, which also features the work of Daria Martin and Ian Whittlesea, reports that it has been very well received which is great news, so catch it if you can.



All the beautiful photographs are by Julian Lister.

Els Grelinger, eminent dance notator (1923-2015)

We were sorry to hear of the passing of Els Grelinger in June this year. A Laban-trained emigree, Grelinger became the first student of the Dance Notation Bureau in New York City in the 1940s. She notated ballets for George Balanchine, Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, Doris Humphrey and Hanya Holm amongst others, and assisted both Humphrey and Holm in re-staging choreographic works. She taught at many universities in the US and worked for the Arts Council of the State of New York. She also taught notation studies at the Laban Centre in the 1980s. This photograph shows her teaching students in 1984 at the Laban Centre, Laurie Grove, now the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

[RefNo: LA/D/12/2/6/4/3]

[RefNo: LA/D/12/2/6/4/3]

We have a small Els Grelinger Collection in the Laban Archive consisting of her teaching notes and resources whilst she was at the Laban Centre, along with some photographs and videos of works she notated. And if you would like to find out more about Labanotation, we have many books of notation scores and learning aides in the Laban Library and Archive – come and have a browse.

Southern Mississippi comes to the Laban Archive!

We had a visit from dance students and their tutor, Stacy Reischman Fletcher, from the University of Southern Mississippi this week. They were visiting the UK as part of their British Studies in Dance programme where they attend performances, take classes, see art and theatre, and tour dance institutions. They had a tour of the building with Mirella Bartrip, Director of Dance  at Trinity Laban and then had a talk from the Archivist about the Laban Core Collections held in the Laban Library and Archive. Here they are with some of the archive items.

Visit from US

We thoroughly enjoyed having them and hope they come back soon!

(Apologies for the poor quality of the photograph)

In memory of Grant Strate

We recently learnt that Grant Strate passed away in February this year. Strate was hugely influential in the evolution of dance in Canada from the 1950s onwards.  Whilst attending the University of Alberta, he began choreographing under the tutelage of Laine Metz, a proponent of Mary Wigman’s ‘German dance’ and soon joined the fledgling National Ballet of Canada for whom he created many new works throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1971 he started the dance programme at York University in Toronto where he masterminded four National Choreographic Seminars. These took place in 1978 at York, in 1980 at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and in 1985 and 1991 at Simon Fraser University and involved the gathering together of choreographers, dancers, musicians and composers in intensive creative laboratories, under the guidance of internationally known choreographic mentors like Robert Cohan and Phyllis Lamhut. These events boosted the development of choreography in Canada.

Strate is important to Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Dance (formerly the Laban Centre) as he ran a Residency here in the 1980s and was also one of the guest choreographers with Transitions Dance Company in the 1985-1986 season. He choreographed the work ‘Past Zero’, pictured below, for the Company.