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Jeffrey Scott Longstaff (U.K.)

Dynamic Body-Space. Rudolf Laban’s choreutic conception

Longstaff, Scott Jeffrey (U.K.): "Dynamic Body-Space. Rudolf Laban’s choreutic conception", 18th International Congress on Dance Research, Argos, 3-7/11, 2004.



This class will present a perspective of modern dance and ballet movements through a method of visualising body-space developed by Rudolf Laban and based on ‘deflecting’ orientations of body motion.

During the 1920s in central Europe, Rudolf Laban worked on developing a system for movement notation which would satisfy his sense of the dynamics and spatial forms of dance. Many notation methods were experimented with (Laban, 1926) but most of these did not continue into the final version of Kinetography Laban or Labanotation (Laban, 1956). One particular type of Laban’s early movement notation symbols reveals a unique method of visualising the spatial orientation of body movement based upon a system of “deflections” between dimensionals and diagonals (Longstaff, 2001). While this method did not carry over into modern-day Labanotation, it did remain as an underlying principal in the system of Choreutics (Laban, 1966). A re-exploration of these concepts of spatial deflections preserves a historical view of Laban’s early vision of movement notation and offers an additional method for experiencing and creating dance movement.

The basic element used in the spatial system of deflections was the diagonal. Four pure diagonals in the movement space can be visualised in a cube (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Four pure diagonals as visualised in a cube.

According to the system of deflections, each of these four diagonals is not considered in its pure orientation, but is instead considered to be deflecting towards one of the three dimensions. In each case the pure diagonal orientation is tilted (deflected) so that its orientation becomes either more lateral, more sagittal, or more vertical. These deflections are described as either: “flat” (laterally deflected diagonals), “steep” (vertical deflections), or “suspended” (sagittal deflections) (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Pure diagonal, with flat, steep, and suspended deflections.

Each of the four diagonals might deflect towards one of the three dimensions, producing twelve possible deflected diagonals, known as “inclinations”. Since each of the twelve inclinations can be moved in two directions (to and fro) this yields a total of twenty-four deflecting diagonal directions (Laban, 1926, p. 13). Each of these deflecting diagonals serves as a spatial category in which to classify all possibilities of movement orientation.

In some places Laban relates this spatial orientation system to traditional dance practices such as ballet, thus illustrating how this new spatial orientation method can be developed logically out of dance traditions that had come before. In the case of ballet, characteristics of the dance style are identified as examples of deflected diagonal orientations:

The spatial-organisation of the new choreography can only be a practical modification of the old ballet-choreography. Its objective is to draw together within the scope of dance-representation the greatest possible number of expressive-movements. We must therefore investigate the traditional positions and movement-signs in their deeper sense, and their elaboration-possibilities. The directions of the third position reveal themselves to us as narrow, steep diagonals. The directions of the fourth position as wide, suspended diagonals. The second position is a meeting of two laterally suspended diagonals. (Laban, 1926, p. 19)

Similar analyses of ballet positions as deflecting diagonals are also presented in other places (Laban, 1926, pp. 13, 35). By contrasting this spatial orientation method with ballet, an essential distinction is highlighted where Laban (1926, p. 64) characterises ballet concepts as mostly “oriented in dimensional stability”, while this new dance method was to be “oriented in diagonal lability”. This contrast between dimensional and diagonal concepts becomes one of the core themes in Laban’s spatial orientation method. Specifically, the scheme offers a method to identify the diagonal content of motions in any dance style. Even when dance positions might consist of clear dimensional alignments, the motions between the positions can be perceived as deflecting diagonals.

The simple method of observation might be as follows:

1. On seeing the movement, first identify which of the four pure diagonals is closest to the orientation of the line of motion;
2. After identifying the approximate diagonal orientation of the line of motion, then identify if this diagonal is actually oriented a bit more laterally (flat), more vertically (steep), or more along the sagittal (suspended).

Laban (1926) seems to have used the ‘deflection’ method as part of a larger scheme for developing a new style of dance for contemporary performance in the 1920s.
Re-envisaging spatial forms as deflecting diagonals offers possibilities for new movement improvisations and to create new movement shapes and forms. In addition it also provides a method for exploring different inner sensations which may arise in association with particular inner attitudes, perspectives, and viewpoints.

The spatial orientation method of deflections offers a diagonal-based scheme through which to perceive and classify body motions. It is a unique conception as many dance techniques tend to represent movements according to a series of momentary body positions. Indeed, this is primarily how modern methods of Labanotation work today. In Contrast, Laban’s early scheme is based on perceiving movements as deflecting diagonal orientations of lines of motion. The method can be applied to any movement style or movement technique as a way of offering new perspectives on the understanding and experience of dynamic spatial orientation.


Hutchinson, A. (1970). Labanotation or Kinetography Laban: The System of Analysing and Recording Movement (3rd revised edition 1977). New York: Theatre Arts Books. (First published 1954)

Laban, R. (1926). Choreographie (German). Jena: Eugen Diederichs. (Unpublished English translation, Ed. by J. Longstaff)

Laban, R. (1956). Principles of Dance and Movment Notation. London: MacDonald & Evans.

Laban, R. (1966 [1939]). Choreutics (annotated and edited by L. Ullmann). London: MacDonald and Evans.

Longstaff, J. S. (2001). Translating ‘vector symbols’ from Laban’s (1926) Choreographie. In Proceedings of the Twenty-second Biennial Conference of the International Council of Kinetography Laban, 26 July - 2 August (pp. 70-76). OhioStateUniversity, Columbus, Ohio. USA: ICKL.

Mr. Jeffrey Scott Longstaff


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