Over two years, I researched and developed two ‘lost’ works, Ishtar’s Journey into Hades and Dancing Drumstick, choreographed by Rudolf Laban in Monte Verita, Switzerland, 1913.
Rudolf Laban (1879-1958), fundamental in the rise of European Modern Dance, is known for his dance Notation system but less so for his dance theatre works. Since 2008, I have (re)created/re-imagined Rudolf Laban’s Green Clowns (1928), Nacht (1927,) Suite ’24 with Trinity Laban dancers, Transitions Dance Company and Summit Dance Theatre for performances in London, Switzerland and France and more recently Dancing Drumstick and Ishtar’s Journey into Hades (1913) premiered in Switzerland in 2015. I also (re)created Green Clowns to commemorate the centenary of World War One in London, 2014 and the Brighton Festival in 2015.
Material remains of Laban’s works are scarce, with no video footage or notated scores of these particular pieces. In the transmission process from archive to production, my focus is not to exhume relics, but to bridge archival gaps to create a new living archive – creating work which has historic significance and contemporary relevance for today’s audiences. I work with embodied, corporeal knowing through performance as a mode of social engagement, exploring archive as an active present; capturing archival materials through current live movement practices. This transmission process uses performance as a tool for translation and transformation.
Dancing Drumstick is a rebellion against the Dalcroze method of music visualisation and music inspired movement. It is Laban’s attempt to shift dance away from the constraints of music. ‘Drumstick’ rejects the Dalcroze method of music visualisation, so musicians follow the dancers, with sections of live improvisation in performance where musicians respond to dancer’s movement in real time. Counterpoint of movement and sound proved interesting for Laban and he moved away from set ‘codified’ steps to reveal its potential, exploring how rhythm and patterns of the mind and spirit manifest in movement. The division of time in the natural movements of the human being ‘has nothing to do with metric rhythmic systems’… they follow another law’. (Laban, 1912).
Ishtar’s Journey Into Hades depicts the mythical Queen and her followers as she descends into the Underworld. This work explores issues of sacrifice and ritual, materialism, loss of the soul, struggle, both physical and emotional in an attempt to redeem and regain self. The Queen adorns an item at each of the seven gates to enter the Underworld.
Green Clowns is Laban’s anti-war piece dealing with dehumanisation of the body through repetitive work and industrial machine-like imagery, the horrors of war, the fragility of relationships, the humour and mindlesses of following political leaders. This work was the pre-curser to Kurt Jooss’ Green Table (1932).
Nacht is a political satire, exposing the underbelly of the Weimar Period. Laban refers to his distaste of ‘dollars, deceit and depravity’. The work has four sections and examines the superficialities of social etiquette in ‘Smart Set’, the greed of ‘Stockbrokers’, the way ‘Tanz Bars’ were used for political propaganda and the ‘Monotony’ of work and labour. ‘1920’s Berlin…starving but sexy.’