LABAN ANALYSIS Reviews, Consultation, Research, Publication

  Overviews of Laban Analysis & Laban Notation
Overview of Laban Movement Analysis & Laban Notation
(2007) J. S. Longstaff

Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and Labanotation (LN) are methods for observing, describing, notating, and understanding all types of body movement. They provide a language and notation for detailed analyses of body movement, identification of specific movement attributes, and promotion effective physical performance of movement characteristics. Further, the methods draw on underlying theories and concepts for body movement 'harmony', health, and physical ability.

Originating with the Hungarian dancer, teacher, and author Rudolf Laban (1879-1958), the methods and theories have been developed over the years by a multitude of Laban's colleagues and students, through which a wealth of modern-day practices, analytical methods, and specialised schools have evolved world-wide. Applications are made in an abundance of professional fields such as choreography, dance analysis, performance enhancement, actor training, injury prevention, physical rehabilitation, sports coaching, psychology, child development, non-verbal communication, anthropology, management and team building, and other fields where body movement plays a role.

Labanotation and Motif
Systems for notating body movement are named Labanotation (or Kinetography Laban) and Motif.

Labanotation consists of a precise and objective notation system, developed from earlier dance notation systems such as Feuillet, then expanded to have utility for notating any type or style of body movement. The system has evolved through years of application, with an abundance of dance scores notated and housed at center of notation such as the Dance Notation Bureau (New York City & The Ohio State University), and a documented history of development in conference proceedings of the International Council of Kinetography Laban / Labanotation (ICKL).

Motif is a more flexible, adaptable approach to notation where the format can be modified according to interests and purposes of the notator. Motifs have been widely used, they are similar to Labanotation but simplified, or specified, to show only a theme or to highlight one or two particular aspects of the movement. Their adaptability is part of their usefulness, allowing notation formats to be derived for specialised analyses, as well as lending themselves easily for creating movement manipulations for choreography. Development of motif has especially occurred through the Language of Dance Center (LODC), both in England and USA.

Choreutics or Space Harmony
The consideration of Space comprises a major area of study in Laban Movement Analysis and considers patterns, forms, designs, configurations, and other aspects of the human body in space. Methods for understanding space have become known as Choreutics, the title of Laban's (1966) book, or also as Space Harmony, referring to underlying theories of 'natural' or organic function.

A unique feature of Choreutics is the use of geometric polyhedra as spatial networks, called kinesphere or scaffolding, created by movement around the body. These networks are used to identify directions and paths and coordination amongst these. Most frequently the five regular solids are used (cube, octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron), but the method also conceives of movement as continuously varying or deflecting amongst these prototypes, thus a wider variety of kinespheric nets are also explored. An elaborate collection of scales are defined, analogous to musical scales, the choreutic or space harmony scales guide the body through various symmetrical patterns, each dividing or segmenting three-dimensional space in particular ways. Further, coordination patterns across limbs are identified in networks such as tetrahedra and compared to musical chords.

Other features in Choreutics include the approach to kinesphere (relationship to center) defined as either central, peripheral, or transverse, as well as a detailed system for defining orientations of movement as aligned either along a dimension, a diameter (two-dimensional), a pure diagonal (three-dimensional, equal), or as an inclination (three-dimensional, un-equal). Further the body might mould in the space either as linear, planar (flat, surface), or plastic (volumetric).

Body Fundamentals
Described as Body Fundamentals, or just Body, this area considers structural and physical characteristics of the human body as well as fundamental reflexes and coordinations amongst body parts known as kinematic chains, coordinative structures, or connectivity. This area is also placed within the field of somatics with methods providing a physical organic approach to body ability. In areas of rehabilitation this contributes to basic movement function, while in skilled movers it promotes fine-tuning of connectivity and corresponding injury prevention.

Body Fundamentals have been especially developed by Irmgard Bartenieff as Bartenieff Fundamentals, and also by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen as Body Mind Centering. These have grown as independent practices however share many similar concepts. Principal amongst these is an understanding of Patterns of Total Body Connectivity, also called Developmental Patterns, or neuromuscular patterns. These are considered to represent a developmental progression of neurological organisation and to be a model for motor development of the baby (ontogenesis) as well as the evolutionary motor development of species (phylogensis). Practical methods for physical training are offered by several principals that are in operation throughout the entire developmental progression, which runs:

  • Breath and breath-support growing to all cells;
  • Core-Distal (naval radiation) with core-support for expansion outwards to the extremities;
  • Mouthing opens and reaches, beginning to distinguishing the spine;
  • Spinal patterns link the full continuation from the head to the tail;
  • Upper-Lower (Homologous) patterns connecting across upper and lower body;
  • Body-Half (Homolateral) distinguishing the entire right and left sides of the body; and
  • Body-Diagonal (Contralateral) patterns such as opposition connecting across right and left.

Irmgard Bartenieff worked with Rudolf Laban and developed a collection of exercises known as Bartenieff Fundamentals. These include several specific sequences which can also be adapted to correspond with the diversity of movement situations and are designed to teach all types connectivity such as identified in the developmental progression. The Bartenieff Fundamentals also focus on body characteristics such as Joint Rotation to access the full range of connectivity, and Initiation of movement in the body including Effort Initiation and Spatial Intention, plus how these transfer their motivations by Sequencing through different body parts.

Laban also developed a unique model for understanding the quality, dynamics or color of body movement, referred to as Effort, the title of Laban's (1947) book, or sometimes referred with the earlier term Eukinetics. A complex model of effort allows many subtle analyses and understandings. Four Effort Factors are defined, each ranging across two opposite Effort Elements:
  • Space Effort considers focus or awareness, ranging from direct to indirect or flexible;
  • Weight Effort considers pressure, force, or sensitivity, ranging from strength to lightness;
  • Time Effort considers speed or slowing of the pace, ranging from quick to sustained.
  • Flow Effort considers the control of movement, ranging from bound or controlled to free or released.

Effort Elements usually occur in combinations. A Full Effort Action would be a simultaneous dynamic performance of all four effort factors combined, while possible it is more common that the most dynamic performances actively combine three effort factors simultaneously, considered to be Effort Drives. Weight, Space, and Time Efforts together compose Action Drive, which contains eight individual combinations of weight-space-time described as Float, Punch, Glide, Slash, Dab, Wring, Flick, and Press. This sequence comprises a kind of Effort Scale , a prototype for other effort patterns with particular orders of sequencing from one effort to another. These are visualised in a Dynamosphere, an effort system parallel to the Choreutic Kinesphere. Further derivations occur when one of the efforts in Action Drive is replaced or "transformed by flow", thus creating three new drives: Passion Drive (no Space or focus), Vision Drive (no Weight or physical presence), and Spell Drive (no Time, endless), each of these also with eight individual effort combinations.

Effort States are combinations of two Effort Elements, and so are slightly less dynamically intense than Effort Drives, often feeling like a base-line dynamic quality or inner attitude. Six Effort States are identified, each with four different individual combinations:
  • Awake State (space & time) combines focus and awareness of timing of actions, while its opposite
  • Dream State (weight & flow) combines bodily sensation with fluidity in a kind of self-sensing.

  • Near State, or Rhythm State (weight & time) creates a physically active presence, while its opposite
  • Remote State (space & flow) tends more towards the pondering of abstract concepts.

  • Stable State (weight & space) creates a clear structure of the body in space, while its opposite
  • Mobile State (time & flow) can lead to continuous fluctuation, changeability and formlessness.

Effort offers methods for exploring the variety of dynamics available to human body movement. Further to this, Effort reveals many understandings of the significance or meaning of expressive communication in movement, particularly through their association with psychological functions of Sensing, Thinking, Feeling, and Intuiting as defined by the Psychologist Carl Jung. Effort Factors have also been especially incorporated in the method of Movement Pattern Analysis (MPA) or Action Profile where they indicate characteristic examples of human motivation for Assertiveness, either by actively Investigating situations, Determining a position or opinion, and Committing to initiation of action.

This area of Laban Movement Analysis considers qualities or features describing how the body changes its shape. One of Rudolf Lamb's colleagues, Warren Lamb developed much of the methods of Shape, recognising it as a counterpart to Effort when assessing movement styles of workers or managers. There are two main areas:

Modes of Shape Change describe how the body is interacting with itself and/or environment and can give indications or communications about how a person relates to oneself and the outside world:
  • Shape Flow refers to how a body can interact and change shape in a kind of self-to-self relationship such as massaging an injury or rubbing oneself to keep warm.
  • Directional movement sees the body creating a kind of bridge outwards into the environment, either curving and Arc-like, or straight and Spoke-like.
  • Carving refers to moulding or sculpting, interacting and accommodating with the surrounding environment creating a solid substance or volume in the space.

Shape Qualities describe areas relative to the body into which the shape changes, giving characteristic qualities of expression. Generalised Growing/Shrinking is further differentiated into:
  • Advancing/Retreating relative to the anterior and posterior body surfaces;
  • Rising/Sinking, lengthening or shortening along entire surface of either side of the body;
  • Spreading/Enclosing, widening or narrowing around a the longitudinal axis of the body.

Shape Qualities have been especially incorporated in the method of Movement Pattern Analysis (MPA) or Action Profile where they indicate characteristic examples of human motivation for gaining Perspective, either by Exploring situations, Evaluating importance of options, and Anticipating likely outcomes or future consequences of actions.

An intricate method for comprehending a variety of degrees and duration of Relationship has also been developed in Labanotation and Laban Movement Analysis. Relationships can be taken between people, between different body parts, or between a person and an object. Detailed degrees of relating are defined as: awareness, addressing, nearness, near & surrounding, touching, touching & surrounding, touching & interlacing, supporting, supporting & grasping, supporting & interlacing. In addition, each of these can be seen to occur as momentary, passing, maintaining, or continuously passing. Relationships give indications for understanding communication and interactions amongst people, in social contexts as well as arrangements and associations of bodies on stage in dance and theatre.

Most often considered as Effort Phrasing, this area considers how series or sequences of individual motions are assembled into larger collections of movement which are performed continuously through, from beginning to end (motor program). Analogous to phrasing in performance of music, or to verbal phrasing in sentences or prose, these are also related to the length of breath and associated with refined artistry.

The basic analysis of the phrase is a 3-part series: exertion - action - recovery. While seemingly simple, within this structure several factors come into play such as how particular efforts serve as preparations or recoveries for other efforts. This study of economy of effort or exertion / recuperation comprises a major topic in the study of movement efficiency and harmony. Out of the basic 3-part phrase many other types of phrase are identified, including: even phrasing (unaccented), impulse (or decreasing), impact (or increasing), swing (or increase/decrease), percussive, and vibratory. Further, any combination or sequence of accents or dynamic highlights can be assembled into a phrase. Many factors of a phrase contribute to its meaningful significance and communication, such as the phrase length, complexity, number of changes and intensity of Efforts.

Harmony, Affinities, Interpretative Frameworks
An additional layer spreads throughout all of the areas of Laban Movement Analysis where concepts such as Affinities and Harmony contribute to particular Interpretative Frameworks according to which specific significance or meanings can be inferred from movement events. A basic set of Affinities were defined as a model for clusters of elements which seem to occur together most easily or efficiently. These serve as a criteria to comprehend the range of actual movement combinations which utilise the affinities to greater or lesser extents, depending on purpose, circumstances or other reasons. Several Interpretative Frameworks have been developed to facilitate understanding the significance of movements. These include methods such as the Kestenberg Movement Profile (KMP) and Movement Pattern Analysis (MPA) or Action Profile.

Major Schools and Organisations for Laban Movement Analysis and Labanotation

(See more Laban organisations in the online bibliography at: )

Dance Notation Bureau (DNB), New York City, USA

Dance Notation Bureau (DNB) Extension, Ohio State University, USA

Language of Dance Centre; England and USA

International Council for Kinetography Laban (ICKL)

European Association for Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies, (EUROLAB), Germany

Laban/Bartenieff and Somatic Studies Canada

Laban Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS), New York City, USA

Laban Guild, England

Integrated Movement Studies, USA

Associazoine Laban/Bartenieff Italia, Milan

Motus Humanus, USA