Bonnie Bird: ‘pioneer, educator and dancer’

In this the 70th anniversary year of the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, we decided to delve into our history using items from the Laban Archive. In this blog post we take a look at the life and work of Bonnie Bird who played a crucial part in the development of what was then the Laban Centre.
Bird was born in Portland, Oregon and was educated at the Cornish School of Fine Arts in Seattle where she studied with Martha Graham. Graham invited her to join the Graham concert group in New York where she performed in many premieres over the period 1933-37. In 1937 she became head of the dance department at the Cornish School where she trained Merce Cunningham among many others, and where John Cage was an accompianist. She was amongst the first members of the dance faculty at the 92nd Street Y in New York and taught there from 1951-1963, establishing the Merry-Go-Rounders, a highly successful company that presented dance for children. She was a founder member and president of the American Dance Guild and the Congress on Research and Dance. In 1974 she began a long association with the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance (now the Faculty of Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance), applying and developing her theories on dance training by helping to institute Britain’s first BA (Hons) degree in Dance Theatre studies, and subsequently Britain’s first MA and PhD degrees in Dance Studies. (TL, 2016)
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Bonnie Bird with participants at the Cage/Cunningham Residency held by the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in the Great Hall at Goldsmiths’ College, July 1980. Photographer: Peter Sayers. [RefNo: LA/D/12/4/1/44, Laban Library and Archive]

Bonnie Bird proposed the foundation of a postgraduate course for dancers who had already completed a minimum of three years full-time professional training and which would entail students becoming members of a professional repertory company  – thus  Transitions Dance Company was born. The name ‘Transitions’ was chosen ‘to indicate the fact that the company is the means by which the dancers bridge the gap between student life and professional dance’. (Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, p. 4)
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Bonnie Bird (centre) with members of the first season of Transitions Dance Company, including Sonia Rafferty (1st on the left) and Anthony Bowne, Administrative Director of the company (6th from the right), 1983-1984. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: D24/1/J/1, Laban Library and Archive]

Thirty-three years later, Transitions Dance Company is still going strong.
In 1985 Bird set up the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund to encourage new young choreographers. She used her 70th birthday year to tour the world, raising money for the Fund.
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John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Marion North at a celebration for Bonnie Bird’s 70th birthday, in New York, 1984. Photographer unknown [poss. Bonnie Bird]. [RefNo: D5/2007/35/2/49, Laban Library and Archive]

The Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund  (BBCF) has influenced many internationally renowned choreographers including Lea Anderson, Matthew Bourne and Rosemary Lee.
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Bonnie Bird, Matthew Bourne and Gillian Lynne at the Bonnie Bird Choreography Awards, 1989. Matthew Bourne was one of the recipients of the award that year. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/1/2, Laban Library and Archive]

The BBCF continues in its work today, with recipients of the 2015 awards being Botis Seva and Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg.
 In 1989 Bonnie Bird offically retired and the theatre at the Laban Centre (now the Faculty of Dance, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) was named after her.
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 Speech for the dedication of the Studio Theatre at the Laban Centre, Laurie Grove, to Bonnie Bird, 1989. (RefNo: D5/2007/35/8, Laban Library and Archive)

 

Bonnie Bird remained Artistic Director at the Centre until her death in 1995. The Bonnie Bird Theatre at the Laban Building, Creekside, London has the following dedication on its wall:
‘this theatre space celebrates bonnie bird; pioneer, educator and dancer whose spirit animates the commitment to developing dance artists of the future’.
Bibliography:
Laban Centre for Movement and Dance. (1993). Transitions Dance Company tenth anniversary year 1983-1993. London, England: Laban Centre for Movement and Dance
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance Faculty of Dance. [TL] (2016, November 3). Bonnie Bird. Retrieved from http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/about-us/our-history/bonnie-bird

 

Marion North: ‘vision, persuasiveness and sheer determination’

Marion North, former Principal of the Laban Centre, was born in Hull and studied at Homerton Teacher Training College, before undertaking postgraduate study at the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester in the 1950s.

 

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Marion North’s letter of acceptance on to a postgraduate course at the Art of Movement Studio, 16 April 1951. [RefNo: D4/2007/39/5/68]

After completing her studies, Marion joined the Art of Movement Studio’s faculty, where she specialised in the detailed observation of human behavioural movement. She became apprenticed to Rudolf Laban, developing a test for assessment of personality through the analysis of physical behaviour and pioneering creative movement in the workplace as recreational activity for industrial workers.

 

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Notes on  ‘Vision Drives’ by Marion North, c1950s [RefNo: D4/2007/39/5/34]

Marion left the Art of Movement Studio in 1958, the year that Rudolf Laban died.  She became Head of Dance at Sidney Webb College, London from 1962-72 and then Head of the Dance Department, Goldsmith’s College from 1972-80. She became Principal of Laban in 1973. Under her leadership, Laban offered Britain’s first BA (Hons) Dance Theatre (1977), the first MA in Dance Studies (1980), the first MA in Dance Movement Therapy in collaboration with Hahnemann University, Philadelphia (1995) and the first MA Scenography [Dance] (1999).

Under Marion the Laban Centre became an international institution, particpating in international events as well as hosting choreographers and dancers from around the world to teach, work and inspire students at the Centre.

 

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Laban Centre students performing at Ninian Park, Cardiff in front of Pope John Paul II, 2 June 1982. Photographer: ?Marion North [RefNo: LA/D/12/4/10/1/2]

 

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Photograph of a workshop at the Laban Centre with choreographer Jacob Marley, 1989. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/4/11/2/1]

Marion invited Bonnie Bird from the US to come and teach at the Laban Centre. Marion and Bonnie had first met at the Dance Notation Bureau in New York in 1970-71. They struck up a partnership ‘which was to have a dominating influence on the Laban Centre.’ (Willson, p. 179). Bonnie Bird came to work full-time at the Laban Centre in 1974.

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Photograph of Bonnie Bird teaching in Taipei, with Transitions Dance Company, c1992. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/5/2/3/1]

 

Marion was a Visiting Professor at numerous colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Greece, Japan and Taiwan. Her own studies included a longitudinal study of movement characteristics of babies to adolescence as well as the application of Rudolf Laban’s principles in industry.

 

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Announcement of a lecture given by Dr Marion North on ‘Observations of personality development as seen in the movement of babies’, 5 March 1982, at the Tavistock Centre, London. [RefNo: D4/2007/39/5/73]

Marion held a PhD in Psychology and Movement Study from the University of London. Marion North was awarded an OBE in 2000 and Doctor of Letters honoris causa by the University of Salford in 2001.  She retired in 2003 having overseen the move of Laban (now the Faculty of Dance) into its new building at Deptford, South East London. In 2004, Marion  was awarded CBE as former Principal and Chief Executive of the Laban Centre.

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Marion North with students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance at her 85th birthday party, 2 November 2010. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: D4/2011/3/102]

Marion North died in 2012.

Anthony Bowne, who took over as Principal of the Laban Centre from Marion and led it into a new phase of its history as Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, summarised her legacy as follows:

‘Marion’s vision, persuasiveness and sheer determination have made an enormous contribution to developing the profile of contemporary dance education and training in this country. Her belief that creative work should be at the heart of every dance student’s experience continues to be a guiding principle in the development of all our dance courses and activities, and her conviction that Rudolf Laban’s work should form a significant dimension of studies here has secured us a unique place in the dance profession. Marion leaves us with a wonderful legacy, including our stunning building – her ultimate vision realized. We are now the guardians of this legacy, charged with responsibility to look always for innovative ways forward and creative solutions to the challenges facing us.’ [TL, 2016)

Bibliography:

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

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance Faculty of Dance. [TL] (2016, August 1). Marion North. Retrieved from http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/about-us/our-history/marion-north

 

 

 

The Laban Centre for Movement and Dance at Laurie Grove

The  Art of Movement Studio at Addlestone, run by Lisa Ullmann in the 1950s and 1960s had been focused on the training of teachers in the Art of Movement and in Modern Educational Dance. However, by the early 1970s, the British government decided that there was an over-production of teachers and therefore aimed to halve the numbers being trained by the year 1980 (Willson, p.78). As a result many colleges closed or merged with others. This change in government policy forced the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, as the Studio came to be known in 1975, to change direction. It came under the wing of Goldmsiths’ College in New Cross, London, eventually moving to the area in 1976 with Marion North at its helm.

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The site of the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance at Laurie Grove, New Cross, London, 2016. Photographer: Sasi Del Bono.

North believed that a degree in dance should be accepted ‘as valid a preparation for life in careers unconnected with dance as is, say, a study of literature or of the social sciences.’ (Willson, p.180) She had a wide-ranging interest in Rudolf Laban’s ideas as well as experience with movement in industry, therapy and community work. She regularly visited America and was exposed to modern dance and movement study there. As a result, North wanted the Laban Centre to provide specialised training for those who were going to make careers as professional dancers, therapists and community workers, as well as those who wanted to pursue postgraduate research and work. (Willson, p.180).

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This is Rudolf Laban’s desk that he used at the Art of Movement Studio at Addlestone. It then became Marion North’s desk and is now based at the Laurie Grove site at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance [RefNo: LA/D/14/1]

Under North’s leadership, the Centre launched a three -year vocational Dance Theatre Diploma (now the BA (Hons) Contemporary Dance) and a one-year course in Dance Studies (now the Graduate Diploma in Dance Studies) in 1974-75.

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Front and back cover from a programme for a performance on 3 June 1977 by the first students to enrol in the three year Dance Theatre Diploma at what was then the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance [RefNo: LA/D/4/11/1/3]

In 1977, the Laban Centre had a BA Honours degree in Dance Theatre validated by the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA). This was the first time an institution in the UK and Europe sought validation for a degree in dance itself. In 1980, the  CNAA also validated an MA in Dance Studies offered at the Centre as well as the research degrees of MPhil and PhD.

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Draft rationale for the MA in Dance Studies introduced at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in the early 1980s [RefNo: LA/D/2/4/35/1/1 pp 114-115]

The number of students enrolling at the Laban Centre increased by 50% in the late 1970s, putting pressure on the already limited space at Laurie Grove in New Cross. The site had been a former primary school which had  a church, St James’,  next door. Agreement was reached whereby the Centre could lease the Church and convert it for its use. The conversion was opened by Sir Roy Shaw, Secretary-General of the Arts Council, in 1984 and comprised ‘eight dance studios, a wardrobe complex, an audio editing room, a video editing studio, an administrative complex, an exhibition foyer, music rooms, staff tutorial rooms and the Centre’s considerable dance library and archives.’ (Brinson, p. 35) Other building works completed the whole Centre in 1989 when it was opened by Sir John Drummond, the then controller of BBC Radio 3.

 

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Photographs of the newly furbished library and archive (top left), pilates studio (top right), atrium (bottom left) and costumes studio (bottom right) at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, Laurie Grove, 1984. Photographer: Tony Nandi [RefNo: LA/D/12/6/4]

 

By the second half of the 1980s there were 250 full-time students and a teaching staff of around 30. (Willson, p. 206)

1982 saw the introduction of the Advanced Performance Course (now the MA Dance Performance) with the formation of Transitions Dance Company spearheaded by Bonnie Bird. The late 1980s and all of the 1990s saw the Centre continue in its ascent, providing more courses validated now by City University including MA Dance Movement Therapy,  MA Dance Management & Development and MA Scenography Dance. In the year 2000 the achievements of Marion North and the Laban Centre were recognised and Marion North was awarded the OBE.

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Laban Centre luminaries Valerie Preston-Dunlop, Marion North, Mirella Bartrip and Bonnie Bird, 1992. Photographer: Tony Nandi. [RefNo: D11/A/13/26/4/1]

Marion was not alone however in carrying out the transformation of the Centre and moving it rapidly forward. Other names like Bonnie Bird and Peter Binson  figure heavily  and we shall be looking at their input in subsequent posts. But our next post will look in more detail at Marion North and her achievements.

 

Bibliography:

Brinson, Peter, 1993, Years of change: 21 years of the Laban Centre, Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, London

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