Dancer and co-founder of leading physical theatre company

Ursula Laeubli: URSULA LAEUBLI, who has died aged 46, was the co-founder of one of Ireland’s leading contemporary dance and …

Ursula Laeubli:URSULA LAEUBLI, who has died aged 46, was the co-founder of one of Ireland's leading contemporary dance and physical theatre companies, Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company, which she created with Steve Batts in Amsterdam in 1991 before bringing the company to Derry in 1997.

Since then, she and the company have been influential in driving the development of dance and movement in Ireland.

Ursula Laeubli was born in 1964 in Switzerland to Hilde and Georg Laeubli. She was educated at Kantonsschule im Lee in Winterthur where she received her baccalaureate. She was introduced to dance by influential teacher Ruth Girod whose influence on Ursula remained throughout her career.

In 1985, Ursula moved to Amsterdam to study mime before joining the School for New Dance Development. There she studied with many of the movement artists who came from, or were influenced by, the Judson Church, post-modern movement of the US in the 1960s. The exploratory, questioning and creative dynamic of this training with such people as Steve Paxton, Deborah Hay, and Simone Forti influenced her work throughout her life, as did her experience of the vibrancy and creativity of the Amsterdam alternative arts and squatter scene in the late 80s and early 90s.


While at the school in Amsterdam, she met Steve Batts, a visiting student. They became a couple and set up a creative partnership which led to their establishing Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company in 1991. This partnership and friendship was to endure through her life. They danced, taught, created and performed together through marriage, separation and divorce. In the early 1990s Ursula and Echo Echo travelled around Europe working on performance and teaching projects. In particular they developed a strong relationship with Wolfgang Hoffmann and his centre, Fabrik Potsdam in Germany, as well as with the Kult Moderna Festival in Kharkov, Ukraine.

In 1996 she and Batts toured Ireland with their duet Willing Accomplice, accompanied by Benno Voorham and Wolfgang Hoffmann, who shared the billing with their piece Versteinerte Haut.

It was to be a life-changing tour during which Hoffmann met his future wife and established connections, which led to his becoming director of the Dublin Fringe Festival. Meanwhile, Pauline Ross, director of the Playhouse in Derry, invited Echo Echo to become the dance company in residence there.

Echo Echo moved to Derry in 1997. It was there Laeubli planted the seeds of her dance practice in the local and wider community.

She was a formidable figure, strong and demanding yet with a warmth and generosity that people were drawn to. She worked with many people in a variety of contexts, in schools, community or disability groups, youth clubs and Echo Echo’s own classes. She was instrumental during the inception of the University of Ulster’s dance degree course and became a part-time lecturer there.

As well as teaching, Laeubli concentrated on creating work, directing, choreographing, collaborating and performing. This prolific period included productions such as Pulse(1999), Carbon(2000), No Trace(2003), and her solo Under Observation(2006).

Her duet with Steve Batts in Resonance, directed by Wolfgang Hoffmann, drew on the depth of their personal and creative relationship. It was a subtle and moving piece of work, performed at the acclaimed aurora nova venue at Edinburgh Fringe in 2006, and toured through Ireland and to Palestine.

Aside from Echo Echo, Laeubli pursued her interest in Zen Buddhism. It was through this that she met her partner for the last three years of her life, Chris Ardill.

Throughout her time in Derry, she kept her connections abroad and was able to invite prestigious teachers and practitioners such as Hai Cohen, who supported the development of her work with people with disabilities; Fabian Chyle, who brought his background in movement therapy; and Russell Delman, who combines the Feldenkrais method with meditation and movement.

In late 2007, Echo Echo's production Consequences, also directed by Hoffmann, toured Ireland. Sadly, it was to be Laeubli's last performance tour.

In 2008 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She remained present in the company’s artistic development, mentoring, teaching and creating shorter performance pieces for the younger dancers.

Her last weeks were spent in a clinic in Switzerland. The dance community in Derry, Ireland, Europe and beyond has paid tribute to her inspirational character and the impact she had on not only the dance sector but on everyone she met. Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company has set up a website in her memory,

She is survived by her parents, her brother Martin and partner Chris Ardill.

Ursula Laeubli: born October 13th, 1964; died April 14th, 2011