Rudolph von Laban

By: Karinne Keithley Syers
December 15, 2014


The meliorative impulses of prolific, visionary autodidact RUDOLF VON LABAN (1879–1958) underlie the practices of most of 20th-century modern dance, dance therapy, and tanztheater (dance theater). Through his school of dance, begun in 1913 at the cooperative, anarchic, internationalist, vegetarian community of Monte Verità at Ascona (Switzerland) and continued in Zurich, Berlin, and eventually Manchester, Laban made practicable approaches to the ideal love-play-work triad through the analytical triad of space-time-flow. Later, he became obsessed with crystal development, incorporating the tensions of crystalline pulls into his vocabulary of movement. Never one to mark his territory, some of Laban’s most influential ideas are more associated with his students and inheritors — Mary Wigman, the leading proponent of the “pure” movement form of Ausdrucktanz (expressionist dance); Kurt Jooss, who developed Laban’s tanztheater into its own demanding tradition (further evolved by Pina Bausch) capable of social criticism, irony, and grotesquerie; and Irmgard Bartenieff, who developed Laban’s movement concepts into somatic and therapeutic practices. Running through all of his work — his participatory “movement choirs,” his visionary dance notation system [shown above], his icosahedral map of dancing space — is Laban’s understanding of movement as a continuous and universal condition in which balance is tried, found or failed, and dance as an instrument for attuning the individual relationship to biophysical life.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Paul Simonon.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut Generation (1874–1883).


Art, HiLo Heroes, Theory