Heritage Open Days 2020: Rudolf Laban Archive

Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) was a dancer, choreographer, and pioneering movement theorist. Students today still learn about his life and work. Laban was born in Bratislava and studied architecture in Paris before moving to Munich and focussing on the movement arts. It was here he began teaching and theorising dance and movement.

Laban moved to Berlin in 1927 and was appointed Director of Movement and Choreographer to the Prussian State Theatres in 1930. After the Nazi accession to power in 1933, he was appointed director of the Deutsche Tanzbühne organising performances and festivals, choreographing and promoting German dancers. However, his work fell out of favour with the Nazis in 1936 when the Reich Minister for Propaganda Josef Goebbels banned his dance production Of the Spring Wind and the New Joy.

Laban moved to England shortly after, and began teaching and theorising dance and movement here. He firstly joined the Jooss-Leeder Dance School at Dartington Hall in Devon, and then founded the Art of Movement Studio in Manchester.

We hold the Rudolf Laban Archive, made up of papers, photographs, and drawings produced by Laban during the last twenty years of his life when he was in England. They not only show us him teaching and working out his theories, but they also reveal his life away from his profession. Alongside the many drawings we have of movement, we have drawings by Laban which he did whilst on holidays in England.

Holiday drawing by Rudolf Laban of the Lake District, n.d. (L/C/9/14) From the Rudolf Laban Archive, University of Surrey © University of Surrey
Holiday drawing by Rudolf Laban of the New Forest, 1954 (L/C/9/40) From the Rudolf Laban Archive, University of Surrey © University of Surrey

Laban used crayon for the drawing of the Lake District and pastels for his New Forest drawing. Both mediums capture the colourful beauty of nature in England.


As we approach Autumn you’ll start to notice the leaves on trees changing colour. Follow these steps to make your own rubbing of the autumn leaves you can find outside:

  1. Head outside and collect up some dry, fallen leaves.
  2. Sitting at a table, place your leaves vein side up on a piece of plain white paper, and then place another sheet of plain white paper over the top.
  3. Using a crayon, pastel or colouring pencil and holding it on its side, gently rub over the top sheet of paper where your leaves are. You should see the outline of the leaf appear. Use a mixture of red, orange, and brown coloured crayons, pastels or pencils to best represent autumn.