Wednesday, 13 November 2013

on the term 'choreosophy'

Rudolf Laban in his workshop at Dartington Hall (1938), England. Gordon Curt collection.
The term 'choreosophy' derives from Greek 'χορός' (choros, dance) and 'σοφία' (sophia, knowledge) and indicates a layered system of knowledge that we have on dance. The term joins together the word 'dance' and 'knowldge', as if to imply that the art of dancing is capable of producing knowledge, an important aspect if we think that still today many people tend to limit the meaning of dancing to the mechanical movement of the body (which could also be a topic for discussion, but not in this article).

The term 'choreosophy' was used by dance theorist Rudolf Laban in his book Choreutics (1966), together with other terms such as choreography and choreology, on which I will return in another article. Laban mentions its use in ancient Greece: "choreosophy seems to have been a complex discipline in the time of the highest Hellenic culture" (Laban, 1966: viii) and he also talks about its use in Pythagoras's work (the word 'choros' also means circle).

In another book, The Art of Movement (1950) Laban had also coined the poetic expression "movement-thinking" where again a term like 'movement' was put next to 'thinking' to suggest that dancing can be connected to the intellect and can move the articulation of thoughts.

The term 'choreosophy' returns in choreographer Aurel Milloss's writings as he defines it "the discipline that deals with dancing from a moral point of view" (Milloss, 2002: 64). In this case, then, the word 'knowledge' is interpreted in a different manner with respect to my definition. Milloss goes on specifying that choreosophy "intends to analyse the apparitions and manifestations of dance in human life" (Milloss, 2002: 64), giving a mystic tinge to the term. Dance, in his vision, is seen as the art from which the other arts originated as they all share a movement of some sort, "from the rhythm of movement came dance, from the rhythm of words, verses, from the rhythm of sound singing and music" (Milloss, 2002: 65). Having the other arts derive from dance is not new, Curt Sachs had already expressed this notion in his World History of the Dance (Tomassini in Milloss, 2002: 65). Establishing a hierarchical scale among the arts in the present academic panorama where Deleuze's molecular philosophy is widespread and where the binary vision of reality is being questioned, does not make sense and I will not venture on a digression of this kind. Suffice it to say that to Millos choreosophy is an analytical instrument connected to dance as a human phenomenon.

The word 'choreosophy' can also be found in Alessandro Pontremoli's writings about the fathers and mothers of contemporary dance, as he defines their work using the expression "choreosophic thinking"(Pontremoli, 2004: xxi). He also mentions it when talking about Laban, stating that choreosophy is the "philosophy of dance" as it "establishes its ethical and aesthetical principles" (Pontremoli, 2004: 70).

Recently, the term 'filmosophy' has been created and Daniel Frampton has written a book about it, Filmosophy published in 2006. Frampton highlights the fact that films do not only reproduce reality but create a new one (Frampton, 2006: 5). Films have produced a new way of thinking
(Frampton, 2006: 7) so that the necessity has come to reflect on them in terms of 'mind' and 'thinking'
(Frampton, 2006: 10). His discourse is quite interesting, but seems to fall back into the mind/body dichotomy, for example omitting the analysis of film materiality. The term 'filmosophy' is for Frampton exclusively connected to intellectual questions, while choreosophy, as we have seen, focuses on knowledge that dance can produce integrating mind and body in a refined synergy.

I believe it would be more appropriate to use the term 'choreosopher' instead of 'choreographer', when talking about great figures in dance history (and maybe not only them) who have developed a choreo-thinking within their work, (in the twentieth-century we can mention Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Tero Saarinen and the Abbondanza Bertoni Company), as this would express a more articulated picture of their vision.

Dance has its own terminology and 'choreosophy' is one of the less used but most stimulating terms to underline the complex research that surrounds the moving body.

(Note: tranalsations from Italian are mine. This article was originally written in Italian and published here)


Daniel Frampton, Filmosophy - A manifesto for a radically new way of understanding cinema (London: Wallflower Press, 2006). 

Rudolf Laban, L'arte del movimento [o.e. 1950], trad. Silvia Salvagno (Macerata: Ephemeria, 1999). 

Rudolf Laban, Choreutics, edited by Lisa Ullmann (London: MacDonald&Evans Ltd., 1966).  

Aurelio Milloss, Coreosofia - Scritti sulla danza, edited by Stefano Tmassini (Venice: Leo S. Olschki, 2002). 

Alessandro Pontremoli, La danza. Stroria, teoria, estetica nel Novecento (Bari: Laterza, 2004)

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