Laban’s Efforts

Who was Laban?

Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) was a master of movement. Nowadays his name is probably most widely known in connection with ‘Labanotation’ - a system he invented for analyzing and recording movement in written form. Yet this is only one part of the substantial body of work he produced in his lifetime. He was a prolific choreographer, a life-long educator, and a specialist movement researcher. His work changed the perception of movement in all performance and inspired a whole new type of movement practice.

What are ‘Laban’s Efforts’?

An Effort can be understood as a way of identifying the ‘quality’ of our movement during action: the sensation or feel that our movement has both for ourselves and others. During action there are eight types of Effort that emerge. Laban called them the ‘Efforts of Action Drive’. In other words, they are the key types of Effort that are expressed when we are motivated to act. Laban named these Effort qualities: Floating, Dabbing, Wringing, Thrusting, Pressing, Flicking, Slashing, and Gliding. Laban identified these Efforts by breaking down movement into what he called the Motion Factors of Weight, Time and Space. These three factors combine in different ways to create each of the eight Efforts.

He observed that one or more of the eight qualities of Effort is present in all action and so they ‘form the substance of man’s movements’ (Mastery of Movement). They are sometimes referred to as the ‘Basic Efforts’ or simply as ‘The Efforts’. Whenever the term ‘The Efforts’ is used in this book, it is referring to these eight Efforts of Action Drive.

The way we think about colour can help us to understand what is meant by Effort ‘quality’. Different Efforts give movement a specific quality, just as colour gives light a specific quality. We identify seven colours (those that make up the rainbow) which can all combine to make up an eighth colour, white light. Just as colours can be separated out or placed together in combination, so too can the Efforts. The actor can work with one or more Efforts at a time. Painters know how to work with combinations of colour to form a million different shades; weavers know how to bring together threads of various colours to create different effects.  The actor who can work with all eight Efforts - and different combinations of the Efforts - can communicate physically with the same expressive skill that a master painter brings to their canvas.

Why this book?

Laban’s writings contain key insights for the actor, but it can be daunting to try and find them given the extent and complexity of his writing. Within his books Laban himself gives some practical guidance, but it is often written for the dancer, observer or analyst (even when it states that it is for the ‘actor’). So the actor can be left confused and unsure how to convert Laban’s insights into a scheme of practical work.

This book aims to help the actor in this task. It offers a stage-by-stage process through which they can explore and apply Laban’s Efforts for themselves. This process has evolved over more than thirty years of work with actors in the studio, in which Laban’s Efforts are approached through experimentation and play. Such prolonged focus on one section of Laban’s work has allowed the richness of this part of his research to unfold. This book celebrates the Efforts and all they can give to the actor.

Why learn about Effort?

It is useful for the actor to focus on Effort because it is the Effort quality with which we move which rules our physical expression. The type of Effort which drives a given action dictates how that action is carried out. This, in turn, expresses something of who we are and what we are thinking and feeling. How we carry out action – how we act – defines us to ourselves and others. One person will walk, talk, or pick up a cup very differently from another. So, for the actor, consciously choosing ways of carrying out action is a vital part of expressing character. By changing the way you express action, you are able to transform your way of being in the world into that of others.