Working with Laban technique

Recently I have been working in schools in Singapore, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, and one thing I did with the students was explore ways into theatre creation and character work using some Laban technique. This blog will outline some of the ways in to using movement as a starting point for creating work, and will also provide readers with some movement vocabulary they can use with other people they are working with.

Stage 1 – Understanding your own space

When working on Laban technique it is very important to start off by being aware of your body and the space that it occupies. In Laban’s work he speaks a lot about giving life to the space, so when working with his theory it is important to always be aware of the space that you occupy, the space between you and others, how you cross that space, how you bridge the gap and what messages you send to others from how you occupy and move through your space.

What is your kinesphere? This is the personal space that we each occupy and extends for as far as we can reach in any direction. Around us is what is called general space, when we move our kinesphere moves with us, and then we displace the general space. Experiment with your own kinesphere and explore how you move in it.

Stage 2 – Understanding how you move in and through space

Once you have become aware of your own personal space (kinesphere) it is then important to see HOW you move in that space, and from one space to the other. Experiment with the following movements:

Monolinear – movement flows through successive joints from one to the other. Eg from hips to knees to ankle to toes.

Polylinear – movement where several joints move at once

Pathway – this is the movement of the body or one part of the body from one place to another. This can also be movement across a space from one point to the other. Eg. movement from A to B across the floor.

Trace form – this is the entire shape that the body or part of the body makes. For example a square is created by 4 pathways and equals one trace form in the shape of a square.

Stage 3 – Levels or zones

When moving in a mono linear or polylinear way in or along a pathway or trace form the movement is taking place at a particular level. Laban divides these levels into three levels: high, medium and deep

  • High: This the area above the head, reached into mainly by the arms, but also by the shoulders and feet for those of you that are more supple!
  • Medium: This is the area around the waist and can be reached into by the knees, head, feet etc
  • Deep: This is any movement low and close to the floor.

Stage 4 – Space and character

When working with these 4 areas Laban plays around with the two extremes of the spectrum. So for example with SPACE we can think about the minimum space our body occupies (curling up into a ball) and then occupying as much space as possible, extending and stretching the whole body.

Gathering – this is the contraction of the limbs. This could be the internal movement of the shoulders and head to show fear or shyness or this could be entire folding of the upper body when in excruciating pain. We also gather when we are cold, in a crowded lift or when we embrace someone precious to us.

Scattering – this is the opening of the limbs, flinging away and relaxing. We may jump up and down and cheer for joy, wave to a friend, relax in the sunshine and throw our legs and arms open to the warmth, or a small child running around in the playground seeming out of control of their limbs! All of these show scattering.

Stage 5 – Applying the ideas to theatre creation

Start of by exploring the movement terms, seeing what comes out of the practical work, and then do any of the following:

  1. Give a purpose for a movement sequence – for example, create a trace form using mono linear and polylinear movement but show 3-4 stages of a story through the movement. Add environment and sounds.
  2. Start with an image and use that to inspire physical responses through gathering, scattering, zones, pathways and trace forms, apply the kinesphere.
  3. Start with a sequence of movement then add dialogue or narrative to the movement and see what meaning is brought to the text as a result of the movement
  4. Use any of the movement ideas above and then add text, interactions in space, sound and music to develop into a piece of meaningful movement, with our without text

N.B. For the devising ideas above always get the audience to give feedback, early on, as to what is communicated to them, as this will be the foundation of the drive for your work

Ideas taken from: ‘Laban for All’ Jean New Love and John Dalby, and ‘The Mastery of Movement’ by Barbara Adrian. I also drew on work have done as a contemporary dancer in Laban dance companies ‘Caleidos’ (Brazil) and ‘New Moves’ (UK)

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