Title: Laban Collection
Classmark: BC MS 20c Theatre/Hodgson/1
Main language: English; French; German
Size and medium: artwork; books; cassette tapes; CD-Rs; flyers; index cards; journals; manuscript papers; magazine cuttings; maps; musical scores; newspaper cuttings; photographs; photocopies; typescript papers; 54 boxes; 9 metres
Collection group(s): Rudolf Laban Collections
The Laban Collection includes papers and artworks by Laban and interviews with Laban's pupils and colleagues. The archives also include notes made by John Hodgson and publications relating to Laban and his work collected by Hodgson during his research.
Rudolf Laban or Rudolf von Laban was born on 15 December 1879. He was a choreographer, who arguably organised German Modern Dance (Ausdrueckstanz). Laban was also a teacher and more broadly an educator, not just of children, but the general population. As a pioneer of dance notation, Laban laboured long and hard to create a simple and systematic form of dance notation. In 1928 Laban created the first of three Dance Congresses and continued to organise opportunities to improve conditions for dancers in Germany. In 1938 he moved to England and soon became involved in working with various industries and factories to help them increase productivity. Laban also enjoyed drawing and painting and produced hundreds, possibly thousands of sketches, drawings, and occasionally finished paintings. He died on 1 July 1958 in Addlestone, Surrey.
John Hodgson created one of the most wide-ranging collections of materials by and about Laban outside of Germany. It is not immediately obvious why he started to collect, but when can be dated to a proforma letter dated 1964 which opens:
'For quite some time, I have thought very seriously about writing a biography on Rudolf Laban but with time always a limiting factor it has been difficult for me to set to work on this enormous undertaking'.
Hodgson wrote two books: the first being ‘Rudolf Laban: An Introduction to His Work & Influence‘ with Valerie Preston-Dunlop (Tavistock: Northcote House, 1990) the second, ‘Mastering Movement‘ (London: Methuen, 2001), was finished by his close friend Donald Howarth after his death in 1997. Neither was a biography.
The bewildering wealth of Hodgson‘s collection is testament to his fascination with Laban. Most of his holidays were research trips through Germany, Austria and Switzerland to visit relatives or former students of Laban. In summer 1975 he and Vivienne Bridson, his co-worker in this massive enterprise, went to East Germany purportedly to enjoy a walking holiday. In fact, they went to explore the archive of documents, images, and photos that Laban had left in the care of his secretary, Louisa Lieshke.
Hodgson probably found the treasure trove as the result of research undertaken by Bridson. Her ability to read and write German meant that she could correspond with members of the Laban family and with Lieshke’s son. This is part of his reply of 3rd March 1975 to a letter from Bridson, written in English:
'We are happy, that you will have time to speak with us about the Rudolf von Laban Biographie and about the Archiv at Plauen. I would agree with bringing, if it would be allowed all important things to England to establish there a Archiv or Museum for Memory of Laban ... The Archiv was given to my mother by v. Laban in thanks-giving for many helps in working and giving and getting together money fir his work in art – and so it belongs now to me by hereditary! But y would let all those things for lending – without calling back to Germany. It will not be very easy to get the permission to bring out 12 boxes to England. But if it will be allowed I would be very glad.'
They managed to find Lieshke’s son in Plauen then in communist East Germany - and get quite a lot of the archive back to England. It now forms the centrepiece of Hodgson’s archive. The greater part of the other materials came through Lisa Ullmann, a former student of Laban’s in Hamburg in the 1920s, who looked after him for the twenty years that he lived in England (1938–1958).
A chance remark of Hodgson makes it clear that he was aware that Ullmann thought that he would write a biography according to her image of the man. Hodgson was determined to offer a less partisan account of the man, and his collection of interviews, drawings, photographs and written materials offers researchers a kaleidescopic perspective of the man.
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Catalogues of archives are usually arranged in hierarchies - one hierarchy for each collection in the archive. The details on display will be of a record at a particular level of the hierarchy. There may be other records above, below, or alongside this record in the same hierarchy. You can see the full hierarchy under 'In this collection'.