Thursday Lecture Series

For Purity and Profit: Choreographing the Modern Self

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

In 1928, the German choreographer Rudolf Laban announced what he believed to be an explosive development in the history of dance: the creation of an inscription system that could “objectively” record human movement on paper. The technique, known as “Labanotation,” relied upon byzantine combinations of lines, tick marks, and boxes, but—despite its difficulty—was adopted both within dance and far beyond it throughout the twentieth century. In this talk, I will explore two seemingly distant, but in fact closely-linked, moments from Labanotation’s history: its origins in the anxiety-ridden, vibratory atmosphere of Weimar Germany and its use in the American and British corporate office in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In particular, the talk will focus on how writing down movement functioned a means of understanding and controlling the individual psyche, promising to reconcile the invented and the authentic, the individual and the group, and the body and the machine at moments threatened by massive social upheaval.