Sylvia Bodmer was born in Duisburg, Germany in 1902. During her 50-year career, she gained a reputation as one of the foremost proponents of the inclusive and free-interpretive dance style of Rudolf Laban. Bodmer showed an aptitude for mathematics as a child, but her gender proved an obstacle to employment in that field, despite a good qualification. She gravitated toward dance, and came to know about Rudolf Laban’s work through Suzanne Perrottet, one of his earliest followers. After 18 months with Perrottet, she went to study with Laban’s school in Stuttgart. Laban, impressed with her dancing, in 1922 asked her to join his performing dance group Tanzbuhne Laban, with whom she spent two years.
Here is an exert from her memoirs referring to her time spent with Laban in Gleschendorf.
In 1924 Bodmer joined with Lotte Mueller in Frankfurt to form a school based on Laban’s ideas, and then joined with Edgar Frank in 1927 to form a chamber dance group.
Sylvia brought her young family to Manchester, England, in 1938. She began teaching dance, and founded the Young Dancers’ Group. Laban and Lisa Ullmann also found themselves through different circumstances in Manchester. It is here that Bodmer and Ullmann set up the Manchester Dance Circle in 1943. It created a platform for Ullmann’s training classes, Bodmer’s movement choir works, and Laban’s lectures.
Laban and Lisa Ullmann left Manchester in 1953 (Bodmer, W.2004 p.6), taking the Art of Movement Studio down to Addlestone, Surrey. Sylvia continued to run the Manchester Dance Circle.
Central to Laban’s teaching were his concepts of body movement, ‘space harmony’ and dynamics. This enabled him to work out ways of systematizing the study of human movement, and so led him to the development of movement notation. He was unique in his development of the idea of ‘efforts’, the idea of scales related to points in space defining an icosahedron around the human body and in his applications to practical questions in time and motion study and the assessment of personality. Sylvia’s earlier mathematics training allowed her to quickly define Laban’s direction and to develop her own ‘space forms’.
‘Bodmer’s notebooks overflow with diagrams in both his and her writing. The steeple, the arc, the round and the double bend scrutinised in their regular, expanded and contracted forms. Her comprehension of harmonic principles, and the function of the scaffolding provided by platonic solids in relation to the psyche and to the structure of the body.’… ‘Bodmer was not only able to write about it, simply and coherently, but also to choreograph studies.’ (Preston-Dunlop, V. 1998, p. 259)
Here are three sheets of handwritten notes by Sylvia Bodmer, covering different types of ‘flow’, c1940-50
Ref: SB 29
Bodmer became known as one of the finest interpreters of Laban’s work, both as a solo dancer and a teacher. She continued to teach and develop his work for the rest of her life until she died in 1989.
Bodmer, W., ‘Laban Lecture 2004’, Movement & Dance, quarterly magazine of the Laban Guild, (Spring 2005 p.6)
Preston-Dunlop, V., ‘Rudolf Laban: An extraordinary Life’, (Dance Books Ltd, London 1998)