Archives can be very INSPIRATIONAL

Annie French, a part-time student in her final year on the BA in Creative Practice at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) specialising in textile design, spent a day looking at archive material with Jane Fowler, the Laban Archivist, earlier this year. Inspired by Rudolf Laban life story and dance notation scores she created these beautifully designed and embroidered epaulets which reflect the movement score of a ‘forward ocho’, which is an Argentine Tango step .


Detail of the epaulets.

Annie gives us some more background information on her project and how she came to be inspired by Rudolf Laban;

‘In year 4, I was inspired by music and movement through a local dance class that I was attending.  Having two left feet my actual dancing did not improve but I was fascinated by the energy that could be created by dance.  Looking at the work of Michael Kinder (1917-2009), a visual artist who applied mathematical rules to his work, made me think about the rules of dance. Not having a background in dance, it was by chance that I asked a colleague Anjie Taylor who is the Artistic Director of Qdos Creates, a charity that offers community workshops and performances.  She trained in dance using Labanotation in Yorkshire, Anjie recommend some books, and I was hooked.

As part of a study tour to New York earlier this year, to visit various design studios, I made an appointment to visit the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB) where they opened up their archive for me to look at some of the original dance scores, old photographs of Rudolf Laban and his students. They also introduced me to the work of Jean Kirsten, a visual artist who has been creating work in conjunction with the Laban Guild. They also loved the initial samples of embroidery that I had been working on, which they have kindly shown on their face book page.

Having researched Laban’s family background and his journey to the UK, and finding out that the Art of Movement School was started in Manchester, was enough for me to be so inspired by his work to use my research for my final piece of work last year.  The idea came from his Father being in the military, and wanting his son to have a career in the military.  Using notation, I machine embroidered the designs into epaulets and used typical military colours which hopefully express this.’

Here are a couple of photos from Annie’s studio work. Photographs by Aly Jackson.

Studio work 1 Aly Jackson.jpgStudio work 2 Aly Jackson.jpg

The final artwork was exhibited in the 2016 Unit X exhibition in Manchester and is now on display within the library & archive here at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London.


Overlapping with Annie’s display the Laban archive hung three introduction panels ‘Treasures from the archive’, aimed at new students and staff  providing a tempting snap shot of the fantastic collections the Laban archive holds for their use.

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It seems that Annie got a lot out of her visits to a number of archives; working with their archivists and their collections. She says she is planning to write her dissertation on how the use of archive material can inspire artists to create art.

Having  Annie’s new piece of work and the archive panels on show at same time created a satisfying duality. The old inspiring the new and the new animating the old. Thank you Annie.

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!

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.

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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.