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Dance Generation | John Rolland


John Rolland was the second son of Professor Paul Rolland and Clara Rolland, pioneers of an approach to the teaching of violin and piano that linked the kinesthetic with the musical. As a young child John became an excellent pianist, learning ease in body movement in the process. When he became interested in the visual arts as a teenager, John attended the Interlochen Arts Academy. He earned a bachelor's degree in crafts from the University of Illinois in 1970.

As an undergraduate, Rolland also studied dance with University of Illinois faculty who were experimenting with an alternative to traditional dance technique. Marsha Paludan and Joan Skinner and their students coined the term "releasing" for the approach that evolved during this period. Imitating movement with the goal of mastering a particular style of dance performance was largely abandoned in this approach. Instead, students immersed themselves in the kinesthetic exploration of mental imagery. Skinner's experience with the Alexander technique was the source of many of the ideas presented to the classes, including images of tumbling in a weightless state and being moved by puppet strings. Paludan also exposed students to the writings of Mabel Todd and Lulu Sweigard and the notion of improving posture through the picturing of imagery.

Rolland began to study with Barbara Clark when he became a graduate student in dance at the University of Illinois in the early 1970's. By then Skinner had taken a teaching post at the University of Washington, Paludan had moved to Kansas and Rolland was among a small group of students who were continuing to pursue "releasing" on their own. Paludan invited the group to meet Barbara Clark at a conference in Kansas and, upon their insistence, Clark moved to Urbana where they would help her finalize the writing of her third manual, Body Proportion Needs Depth. In their lessons at her apartment, the students learned basic anatomy by studying Clark's collection of bones and viewing pictures from her copy of the Spalteholz-Spanner Atlas of Human Anatomy. Then they explored one of Clark's body images, picturing the image in stillness or while practicing simple developmental movements like rolling and crawling. Apart from their weekly lessons, Rolland and some of the other students utilized Clark's imagery as the focus of their releasing sessions; they found that her ideas enriched their improvisations and that improvisation became another avenue for kinesthetic discovery.

As a visual artist, Rolland became intrigued with Clark's process of developing drawings of body imagery. In the ongoing exploration of her own alignment challenges or as she considered those of her students, Clark would often pour over the complex anatomical illustrations in the Atlas of Human Anatomy. When such study yielded a new kinesthetic insight, Clark would create a simple drawing that described it. While assisting Clark with the refinement of the drawings for her third manual, Rolland became a special apprentice to that aspect of Clark's creative work.

When Clark realized that some of her Illinois students were serious about becoming teachers of the approach, she urged them to attend one of the workshops offered by her long-time New York student and colleague, Andre Bernard. Rolland attended both the introductory and advanced classes in one of the two-week workshops offered annually in Berkeley, California. It was there that Rolland began to see how the material could be taught to larger groups of students and how presentations of Todd's ideas about body mechanics could be woven into the work with imagery.

Rolland received his master's degree in dance in 1972. Shortly thereafter, he accepted a teaching position at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. He was invited to the school by Mary Fulkerson, another recent University of Illinois graduate exposed to releasing, who also studied with Clark in New York. When Fulkerson moved to England to join the faculty of Dartington College of the Arts in South Devon, Rolland became a guest teacher at that college.

From 1974 through 1985, Rolland collaborated with Marsha Paludan and Nancy Topf in a series of summer workshops taught in Kansas, Colorado and Vermont. Rolland's lessons in "Todd Alignment," the title he employed for his interpretation of the ideokinetic approach, presented the "essential anatomical principles" he extracted from the works of Mabel Todd, Barbara Clark and Lulu Sweigard. Rolland also collaborated with Topf and Paludan in the development of classes that made extensive use of anatomical imagery as the inspiration for movement improvisation; this approach eventually became known as the "anatomical release technique." Contact improvisation was also taught at many of the workshops.

In 1981, Rolland became a member of the faculty of the Modern Dance Department at the State Theaterschool in Amsterdam, Holland. His colleagues there were very supportive of his teaching and encouraged him to begin documenting his work. Rolland's intent was to present his approach through language and pictures that were easy to understand and apply. Published in 1984, Inside Motion: An Ideokinetic Basis for Movement Education presented historical background for Ideokinesis, an introduction to the mechanics of body balance and a series of short body alignment lessons illustrated by Rolland's drawings of anatomical imagery.

Rolland's avid interest in all the arts permeated his life and teaching. In frequent sojourns into a process of playful problem solving, he integrated his passion for exploring body balance with his love of ceramics, painting, music, clothing design, furniture making and nutritious cooking. The outcomes of these investigations were always unexpected, often humorous, and sometimes quite beautiful; most memorable was a series of white porcelain vases and lamps he created in designs reminiscent of the human spine.

Rolland lived with the knowledge that he was HIV positive for more than six years. In the period of his illness, his guest lectures at the Theaterschool focused on death as an aspect of living and the emotional aspects of movement. Toward the end of his life, Jacques van Eijden, a colleague at the Theaterschool interviewed Rolland on the subjects of Todd Alignment and anatomical release technique for a series of four videotapes. John Rolland died in Amsterdam on December 16, 1993 at the age of 43.

Pamela Matt

Bibliography for John Rolland

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