Gabo Falk was a dancer and a pioneer within the development of expressionist dance in Sweden in the early 1900s. She is also seen as one of the greatest dance artists of that era. She developed a Swedish teaching method for children’s dancing which still has a place today in children’s dance instruction.
Gabo Falk was born in 1896 and grew up within a bourgeois family in inner-city Stockholm. Music had a definite place in her family life. Her father, Ferdinand Falk, was a cantor for the Jewish congregation in Stockholm whilst her mother, Ida Rosenberger-Falk, was a singer who had married young and then devoted herself to her family. Her mother came to play a large role in the direction Gabo Falk’s life took. She was the driving force who assembled a large enough group of dance students to enable the organist Anna Behle to open a dance school, called Anna Behle’s Plastikinstitut (institute of movement), in Stockholm in 1907. Gabo Falk attended Behle’s school along with her sister, Jeanna Falk, who was five years her junior. The number of students increased when the children of the Swedish Crown Prince, Princess Ingrid and Prince Bertil, also began to attend. All the children at that dance school came from well-to-do families, in the main from the upper class where it was the norm for young girls to learn to dance as part of their upbringing. Adult students came from various artistic or gymnastic backgrounds. Several performing artists sought dancing classes as a form of inspiration for their own artistry, including Siri Derkert and Einar Nerman. Initially the teaching and movement terminology used at Anna Behle’s Plastikinstitut was largely inspired by Isadora Duncan’s ideas, whilst the methodology was based in Émile Jaques-Dalcroze’s more structured method of working. The school’s students performed in several displays and it was in these that Garbo Falk found her purpose in life. Behle recommended that Falk continue her training with Dalcroze and in 1910, then only aged 13 years old, Gabo Falk and her mother Ida travelled to Hellerau in Dresden.
Dalcroze developed a type of rhythmic gymnastics in order to understand music. He sought to base music in the body. His training involved marching, breathing, directing and movements which strengthened his students’ skills in listening to and reacting to music. The daily classes of the academic year of 1910–1911 were four to five hours long and the mandatory subjects comprised rhythmic gymnastics, which were based on walking and training in following and reacting to the changes in the music, solfeggio, focusing on singing and listening, improvisation on the piano, dancing, gymnastics with various implements, and anatomy. Gabo Falk spent four years studying with Dalcroze. She was part of the group which accompanied him throughout Europe. When he gave presentations the group would demonstrate his teaching methods. Gabo Falk also performed in his adaptation of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice and she was often given the task of choreographing short dances for the demonstrations. She also had great opportunities to see what was happening within expressionist dance in Europe – she saw V. Nijinsky dance L’aprèsmidi d’un faune in Paris. By the time she was 18 years old she was fully-trained and ready to appear on stage. She had intended to make her debut in Germany but the war put paid to that and she returned to Sweden.
Einar Nerman was an important person with regard to Gabo Falk’s stage life. He discussed how they became a group in an interview with Anna Greta Ståhle. Nerman belonged to a group of male dances who attended Behle’s school. He wanted to do something fun and first approached another of Behle’s students, Karin Eckstein. As they needed a third person they then approached Gabo Falk. In the first performance she mainly danced solo whilst Eckstein and Nerman danced together in the more light-hearted and humorous parts. It was through Nerman that Gabo Falk’s eyes were opened to other styles and she incorporated new forms of expression into her repertoire, all the while staying true to her foundations as learned from Dalcroze.
The trio of Gabo Falk, Einar Nerman, and Karin Ecksein made their debut at the Musikaliska akademi (academy of music) in February 1915 to very positive reviews. Gabo Falk took inspiration from Egyptian tomb paintaing for her dance called Egyptisk fris, to which Kurt Attenberg provided his own music. Ida B. Goodwin wrote very descriptively for Idun about Gabo Falk’s dancing and how her art gave the audience “a better understanding than they’d previously had of the nature of rhythmic dance”. The trio received a lot of praise as a unit. The young dancers brought something new and fresh to the stage and became the public’s favourites. Gabo Falk was written about in lengthy articles and her picture, taken by the great photographer Goodwin, was often to be seen. In the spring of 1915 the trio toured Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. They were active from 1915–1918, during which they put on a large number of performances which sold out long in advance. Ida Falk would organise the trio’s tours and the day before each performance she would travel to the relevant place and put up posters in all the windows. The daily press carried a large number of articles and reviews and in general the trio generated extremely favourable comments. Their 1916 performances included two very talented musicians, namely Mrs Märta af Klintberg on piano and Michailow on the violin. The audiences displayed great admiration for the creative combination of several artistic spheres into one performance. Over the ensuing years the trio continued to generate similar ovations whilst the reviewers began to write more nuanced commentary on expressionist dance and began to place higher demands on the dancers.
In 1918 Gabo Falk became engaged to the estate-owner Axel J. Runestam and this brought an end to her career as a dancer. The couple married in 1919 and Gabo Falk then became a fulltime housewife. In 1921, following Professor Dalcroze’s visit to Stockholm when he expressed disappointment that Gabo Falk was no longer teaching, she began to receive a limited number of students in her home on Strandvägen in Stockholm. Her husband died in 1937 and from that time on Gabo Falk dedicated herself entirely to teaching.
After her sister Jeanna Falk opened a school in 1924 Gabo Falk began to teach at her own studio. This was the point when she began to develop her teaching method for children, that is, rhythmic games. Her teaching resembled dancing to fairy tales and stimulated the children’s imaginations. The children found it easy to remember the moves due to Falk’s use of nursery rhymes, coupled with the musical and rhythmic basis of the exercises. The music instructor and pianist Birgitta Nordenfelt composed music for many of the exercises. She produced a repeating rhythmic and musical framework for each exercise at a pace suitable for young children. Gabo Falk wanted to induce harmony amongst the children as well as a desire to feel alive. By moving naturally and beautifully through rhythmic dance she wanted them to fill their movement with meaning, with the help of the music. All the exercises had a name which was linked to their performance and served as a memory aid. For example, one name was vaktparaden (the march of the guards), god dag och adjö (hello and goodbye), sammeten och dropparna (the velvet and the drops), hästarna (the horses), göm och flyg (hide and run), trollen samt prinsessorna i skogen (the troll and princesses in the forest). The children would dance by polkaing, skipping and waltzing. The older children would learn dance-steps which they would combine with arm stretches from the nursery rhymes they had learnt when younger. They also learnt routines which were displayed at various events and annual shows. The majority of the students were young girls from well-to-do homes. A few boys also participated in the shows. Gabo Falk disseminated her methods to Swedish children’s dance instructors at the Svenska Danspedagogförbund (Swedish dance instructors’ association) summer courses in the 1950s and onwards.
Gabo Falk was a very beautiful and stimulating dance artist in her day. She remained active in the dance world throughout her life, and was also an enthusiastic and vocal spectator. By basing her children’s dance method on Dalcroze’s method children’s dance gained a repetitive structure which could be explained, justified, and repeated.
Gabo Falk died in a car accident in Denmark in 1975.