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Dance students perform ‘lost’ work by Rudolf Laban

Tue 11 June 2019

As part of the Dance Legends Historical Project, second year undergraduate students will perform Drumstick, a re-imagining of Rudolf Laban’s The Dancing Drumstick (1913) based on research by Trinity Laban dance artist and alumnus Alison Curtis-Jones.

Choreographer and dance theoretician Rudolf Laban is perhaps best known for his choreological notation system, published in 1928. However, his work The Dancing Drumstick (1913) which precedes it was never notated and only scant material evidence remains. In the absence of photographs, notation or film, Alison Curtis-Jones studied Laban’s letters and other documents housed at the University of Surrey’s National Resource Centre for Dance, the Kunsthaus in Zürich and Trinity Laban’s own archives in order to re-imagine the work. She explained –

“It’s not about exhuming a relic; it’s not about trying to restore something as it was, because I don’t actually know what it was in its entirety. It is about re-imagining it with today’s dancers while making a reference to Laban’s ideas. It’s more of a resurrection of ideas.” 

Alison’s re-imagining is titled Drumstick and makes reference to Laban’s early experiments with the inherent rhythms of dancers’ bodies and movement. This challenged the accepted choreographic principle that movement should respond to music. In Alison’s Drumstick, dancers determine the rhythmic phrasing live on stage and musicians improvise in response to what they see. Alison commented –

“This is about the rhythm of the body made audible. You’ll hear breath; the rhythm of the feet. In fact, in one of the documents I read, Laban was referring to the body as ‘Morse code apparatus’.” 

Drumstick was premiered in 2015, performed by Alison’s award winning company Summit Dance Theatre in Monte Verita, Switzerland, on the site where Laban first conceived the work. It has subsequently been performed in the UK and Canada. Alison commented –

“For me, it’s not about fixing its form because, true to Laban’s ideas and his experiments with improvisation, the dancers actually improvise during the performance. Every time I re-stage my re-imagined works, they are constantly evolving because I’m working with the dancers I have in front of me. It is about generating something new each time.” 

The upcoming Dance Legends performance of Drumstick will take place in the Laban Theatre on THU 20 & FRI 21 JUN at 14.30 & 19.30 alongside an exhibition of visual art works by Jack Bullen inspired by the movements he has observed during rehearsals at Trinity Laban. The Dance Legends programme will also include re-stagings of Merce Cunningham’s MinEvent, Lea Anderson’s Yippeee!!! and Michael Clark’s OH MY GODDESS.

Drumstick will also be performed later in the year as part of Insiders/Outsiders Festival’s nationwide, year-long programme of exhibitions, performances, screenings, lectures and walks celebrating the cultural impact on Britain of refugees fleeing Nazi Europe. Having arrived in the UK in 1938, Laban had a profound impact on British dance, making him a key historical figure to be celebrated in the Festival. He raised the status of dance in the UK as an art form and his choreological notation system and principles of Effort and Choreutics transformed the nature of dance scholarship.

For more information and to book tickets, please visit our What’s On page.