What is Laban Movement Analysis?

Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) is an effective framework for observing, describing and understanding human movement and what it expresses. It is widely used in the fields of dance, theater, dance therapy, physical therapy, sports, and psychology.  Leslie Bishko is bringing LMA to the field of animation.

LMA allows us to explore the relationship of movement to meaning in animation.  Animation creates the illusion of self-expression in animated characters – an illusion created and controlled by skilled animators who create expressive character animation by integrating biomechanics (function) with acting (expression).

LMA compliments and expands on the Principles of Animation, which are widely known concepts originating from the Disney Studios in the 1930’s.

Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) is the most important movement theorist of the twentieth century and the founding father of modern dance in central Europe. He considered human movement as both a science and an art that embraces a continuum from nature to spirituality. His lifelong study of movement gave rise to an integrated and holistic system for observing, describing and notating movement and it’s inseparability from human expression. The body of material known as LMA is an expansion of Laban’s original theories through the work of Irmgard Bartenieff, Warren Lamb, Judith Kestenberg and Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen.

rudolph laban

Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) is widely recognized as the most important movement theorist of this century. As an Austro-Hungarian choreographer, dancer, teacher, philosopher, and writer, he worked alone and in collaboration with such great figures of European modern dance as Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss. He developed an internationally used movement notation (Labanotation), while uncovering the basic principles of movement structure and purpose.

Rudolf Laban was born on December 15th, 1879, in Bratislava, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, an officer in the army, had hoped that his son would follow the same career. However, after a short time spent in a military school, Rudolf Laban decided that his real interest was art and, from 1900 to 1907, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. While there, he became concerned with stage design, drama and dancing. He appeared with a troupe in Montmartre, at the Moulin Rouge, under the stage name of “Attila de Varalja,” taken from his full name – “Varaljai vereknyei esliget falvi Laban Rezso Keresztelo Szent Jano Attila.”

Between 1905 and 1910, Laban carried out research into ancient dances, rituals, and movement habits. As a youth, he had traveled in North Africa as well as the Near East – wherever his father was stationed as governor – and he was thus acquainted with oriental and slavic civilizations. His observations of various cultures, dances and work patterns provided a basis for his future work. Laban’s first experiments with dance script also date back to these early years in Paris. He also worked on theatre architecture, decor and costumes. Twenty year later, in an international competition, he received a gold medal for his model design of a dance theatre.

For three years preceding the war, Laban was director of the Lago Maggiore summer festivals at Ascona, Switzerland, where he headed a self-sustaining art colony. Here he conceived the ideas of natural dance for all people and started the idea of movement choirs. He sought dance drama in contrast to the formal mime and technique of classical ballet. Here also he began his investigations into space patterns and harmonies.

The open air theatre which Laban started to build was interrupted by the war. He left Ascona and also Munich, where he had been producer of the winter Art Festivals, and sought refuge in Zurich where he lived from 1915 to 1918 and where he established his own school and put on many productions. During these years, his research stressed more and more the nature of rhythms and space harmonies.

Between 1919 and 1923, Laban founded schools in Basel, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Prague, Budapest, Zagreb, Rome, Vienna, Paris, and other European centers. Each was called a Laban School and was placed under the direction of a former Laban master pupil. In subsequent years, he established many movement choirs in addition to those that were branches of the already existing Laban schools. He experimented with speech choirs and put on such productions as Faust and Prometheus. His works ranged from compositions for “Kammer Tanz” (small chamber groups) to works for huge movement choirs: from lay works to theatre and concert dance.

In 1926, Laban’s Choreographic Institute moved from Wurzburg to Berlin. At the end of this year he traveled through the United States and Mexico, lecturing in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. During this visit, he started Irma-Betz on the study of script. As the first student in America she paved the way for the future development of notation in this country.

In 1927, Laban founded an organization for dancers who, up to that time, had had no individual standing. He achieved for them an independent union through which he provided a center where standards could be set and where artistic and educational matters could be discussed. He also concerned himself with questions of copyright for dances.

Late 1928 saw the publication of Laban’s book Schrifttanz which presented his recently crystallized system of movement notation, Kinetography Laban. The notation was publicly recognized at the Dance Congress at Essen and soon after the Society for Script Dance was formed. Its magazine, Schrifttanz, was published by Universal Editions in Vienna for about four years. Laban’s idea for Schrifttanz was not a script for dance, but written dance, dance that could be reconstructed from the written form.

In 1929 Laban directed a tremendous pageant of Crafts and Guilds in Vienna, using 10,000 performers, 2,500 of whom were dancers. At this time he also produced a movement choir of 500 for the Mannheim Festival and made the first experiments with sound tracks for dance films. He now united his central school with the Folkwangschule in Essen and became its director, having Kurt Jooss, one of his former pupils, in charge. In 1930 Laban moved to Berlin to become director of movement for the Allied State Theatres.

Following Hitler’s rise to power, Laban’s teachings fell into disfavor as being too universal and not purely nationalistic. In 1936, an open-air production was prepared for 1,000 performers, the parts being notated and sent to the sixty participating choirs in different cities to be rehearsed ahead of time. The dress rehearsal was attended by Goebbels who said: “In Germany there is room for only one movement, the Nazi Movement.” As a result, the performance was cancelled, and Laban’s work in Germany came to an end. He went to Paris and remained inactive for a while, due partly to illness. He did, however, lecture at the Sorbonne and at the International Congress on Aesthetics.

Early in 1938 Laban went to the Jooss-Leeder Dance School at Dartington Hall in England. There he recuperated and worked quietly on his research which, at that time, was centered on the psychological effects of movement. He lectured on the art of movement and on the history of dance. At the outbreak of the Second World Ware, he retired to Wales to continue his research. However, in 1942 he was called on to work in a new capacity. Up to this time films had been used for movement analysis in industry, but now that films were unobtainable, industrialists were interest to learn whether Laban’s system could be used for their purposes. Thus he moved to Manchester to work with F.C. Lawrence, one of England’s leading industrialists. As a result of their work together, they jointly wrote Effort, a presentation of their findings.

During the years 1942-1955, Laban continued his work in Manchester, applying his theories and analysis of movement in terms of effort to various fields. After the war, his interest turned to educational dance. In 1946, Lisa Ullman, who had been his close associate during these years, opened her Art of Movement Studio in Manchester. It became the training center in England for educational dance, the curriculum being based on Laban’s space harmonies and his theories of exploration of expressive movement through effort patterns. Laban lectured at the Art of Movement Studio at Leeds University, and also produced plays for the Children’s Theatre at the Bradford Civic Playhouse under the direction of Esme Church.

In 1946 the Laban Art of Movement Guild was founded to perpetuate his work, to form an organization through which it might become more widely known, and to provide a center for all those working in the Laban methods.

In 1953 Laban moved to Addlestone, Surrey, to an estate in the Thames valley where there were facilities for housing not only his own work and archives but also the Art of Movement Studio. Since then, the Laban Art of Movement Trust, created with the sole aim of giving a permanent home to Laban’s work, was set up. For this purpose, the premises at Addlestone were given to the Trust, and the Art of Movement Studio was incorporated. Laban put his collection of materials at the disposal of the Trust, making accessible to the public, the wealth of charts, manuscripts, and models which were the result of years of research. With the wide facilities at Addlestone, he extended his investigations and their practical applications to the many fields of human activity in which movement plays an important part. Laban died on July 1, 1958. He is buried in Weybridge, England.

From http://www.labaninstitute.org, used with permission.

Books about Laban:

Irmgard bartenieff

Laban’s student Irmgard Bartenieff (1890-1981) applied her Laban training to the field of physical therapy, developing her own approach to body re-education called Bartenieff Fundamentalssm, now a part of Laban Movement Studies training at LIMS. She also was a dancer, choreographer, Labanotation expert, pioneer in the development of dance therapy, and cross-cultural researcher. She originated the Certificate Program in Laban Movement Studies in 1965, and founded the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in 1978.

Bartenieff was born in Germany. Her activities revolving around biology, art, and dance, became sharply focused when she met Rudolf Laban in 1925 and began to study with him and his colleagues. She received a Laban diploma in Berlin and was the only holder of this certificate practicing in the United States.

She and her husband Michail Bartenieff studied, taught dance, and toured with their own dance company before fleeing Germany in 1936. In the United States, she introduced Labanotation at the Hanya Holm Studio with the late Irma Otto-Betz and lectured at Bennington College, Columbia Teachers College, The New School for Social Research, and the Brooklyn Museum.

In 1943 she graduated from New York University’s physical therapy program, later becoming chief physical therapist of the Polio Service of Willard Parker Hospital, N.Y., where for seven years she worked to rehabilitate victims of the polio epidemic. There, she pioneered methods of moving patients from passive acceptance to active participation in their own treatment. This became the core of Bartenieff Fundamentalssm, an approach to body re-education, which develops movement efficiency and expressiveness. Throughout this time, Bartenieff also continued to teach movement classes for actors, dancers, and others.

In 1950 she resumed her studies with Rudolf Laban, who was then residing in England, and she spent five consecutive summers with him and his colleagues.

From 1954 to 1957, as chief therapist at Blythedale Hospital, Valhalla, N.Y., a small orthopedic hospital for children, Bartenieff developed movement activities along both therapeutic and recreational lines for handicapped children — whether bedridden, in wheelchairs, or on crutches. She devised movement games for each child’s capabilities, no matter how severe the disability. This work led to developmental studies on newborns and infants, which she researched at Long Island Jewish Hospital. Later she brought her techniques to the Polio Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark, in a course called “Stretching in Polio.”

During the ten-year period 1957-1967, she worked both as a dance therapist and research assistant in nonverbal behavior at Day Hospital of Albert Einstein Medical College, N.Y. She led the development of systematic observation and notation of patient behavior, using Laban concepts. As a physical therapist, she continued her private practice specializing in dance injuries and back problems. Between 1964 and 1966 Bartenieff worked with Alan Lomax on the Choreometrics Project, a groundbreaking study of correlations between economic structures, work movement, dance movement, and other components in different cultures.

A senior member of the Dance Notation Bureau of New York since 1942, she began, in 1965, to develop the areas of research and training for the Bureau, directing the work towards social science professionals as well as performing artists.

In 1978 she founded the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York to further develop Laban’s work and to extend it into many fields through her own unique applications and methods.

Her professional affiliations included the American Physical Therapy Association, the American Dance Therapy Association, the Dance Notation Bureau, CORD (Congress on Research in Dance), and the Society for Asian Music. She was a registered physical therapist and a registered dance therapist (DTR) as well as a Master Member of the Laban Art of Movement Guild and an Associate Member of ICKL (International Council of Kinetography Laban.)

She was published in such journals as Main Currents, Physical Therapy Review, Music Therapy, CORD Conference Proceedings, Dance Scope, and the American Dance Therapy Association Proceedings.

In 1981, for the first time, her work became available in a comprehensive book, Body Movement: Coping With the Environment, written with Dori Lewis. It was in August of that same year that friends and colleagues of Irmgard Bartenieff gathered from around the world to mourn her death. Her funeral was a moving tribute of dance and love. Today Bartenieff’s students carry on her work in ever broadening applications.

From http://www.labaninstitute.org, used with permission.