Rudolf Jean-Baptiste Attila Laban
Life in Elmbridge
On 4 July 1958, the funeral of Rudolf Laban took place at St. James's Church Weybridge, followed by his burial in the local cemetery in Brooklands Lane (no.4462). He was born in Bratislava (capital of modern Slovakia, then in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire) on 15th December 1879, and died in Weybridge on 1st July 1958. Both of his parents were Hungarian but his father's family came from the south of France and his mother's from Yorkshire. Weybridge was his final resting place after an itinerant life that had taken him to Paris, Munich, Zurich, Berlin (in the early 1930s), Manchester, Dartington (Devon) and Addlestone (Surrey). He never owned a home or possessions other than his working papers. The last five years of his life he dedicated to his Art of Movement Studio based at what had been the Woburn Chase estate, Woburn Hill, Addlestone. William K. Elmhirst, the son of the owners of Dartington Hall, had donated this to Laban who lived at the Studio Flat, Woburn Hill.
Life beyond Elmbridge
While studying architecture and painting in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century Rudolf Laban first became interested in theatre and dance. He started to investigate the development of dance script and devised his first dance dramas and choruses. Laban was fascinated by harmony in movement. Following the death of his first wife he moved to Munich and a huge breakthrough in the history of dance occurred in 1913 when he founded a Summer School at Ascona (Switzerland). Here he trained dancers using 'swinging scales', developed his ideas of the unity of body and mind and created his first theatre dance works.
Between 1914-19 Laban found refuge in Zurich and against a background of domestic, health and financial worries he further developed his system of dance notation and his theories of choreutics (study of special forms, exercises based on scales) and eukinetics (the study of the rhythm and dynamics of movement). His studies led to the development of the icosahedron (a spatial model). Following another bout of ill health at the end of the First World War Laban moved to Nuremberg and started working on how non-professionals could benefit from the experience of dance; he organized classes for young people alienated by the War.
The 1920s saw the publication of Laban's first book, 'The Dancer's World', winning him recognition, his first major choreographic work, 'The Deluded' that was performed to critical acclaim, and the foundation of Laban schools throughout central and eastern Europe. He had reached the high point of his career. In 1928, he made probably his most important contribution to the world of dance - a system of 'written dance' or as it became known 'Labanotation'. Through this innovation, he has enabled dance all over the world to be preserved and recorded. Despite initial success as ballet master of Berlin's Unter den Linden Opera House, he had an ambiguous relationship with the Nazi Regime in Germany and fell foul of the Propaganda Minister Dr. Goebbels who forbade the performance of a production Laban had prepared for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He was 'rescued' by a former student Kurt Jooss and given refuge with him by the Elmhirst family at Dartington Hall in Devon.
By 1942 he, along with Lisa Ullman (1907-1985), a student and teacher of his methods, had established a school in Manchester and then moved their enterprise to larger premises in Addlestone, Surrey in 1953. Laban's final years saw him applying his methods to retraining people for unfamiliar kinds of work, particularly preparing women to take over men's jobs and how movement could be used therapeutically.
Rudolf Laban was a man of many talents and many flaws. He inspired many and revolutionised our concept of movement as an art form and as therapy. His ideas influenced the training of dance teachers, helped to found European Modern Dance and he was the first person to develop community dance. Laban's Art of Movement Studio continued his work in Addlestone after his death and in 1975 was renamed Laban Centre for Movement and Dance and moved to a new site in New Cross, South East London.
- Correspondence: Laban Art of Movement Centre, 1953-1957, Ref. no. T/AD/3/B/1, Devon Records Office, Exeter
- Warren Lamb, Mr. Rudolf Laban, Application of 'Free Movement', The Times, 8 July, 1958; pg.10; Issue 54197; col. E, The Times Archive Online, Surrey Libraries [www.surreycc.gov.uk/libraries]
- Obituary, Mr Rudolf Laban, The Times, 3 July 1958; pg.14; Issue 54193; col B, The Times Archive Online, Surrey Libraries [www.surreycc.gov.uk/libraries]
- Muriel Topaz, 'Laban, Rudolf Jean-Baptiste Attila (1879-1958)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/60601, accessed 9 Nov 2010]
- Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance [http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/about-us/about-us/history/rudolf-laban.aspx]