Obituary read to her friends on June 3 2011 at the University of Derry (Northern Ireland)
In de next minutes I would like recall the stations of life of my sister Ursula Läubli in a biografy based on five screenshots of her life.
Let me begin with the very first screenshot:
A drearily cloudy October morning in 1964.Ragged clouds hang low above the alpine valley of Glarus and nestle like cottonwool balls to the flanks of the mountains, like whipped cream on a cake before the feast.A little boy, hardly three years old, holds tight the hand of his big father, waving after the white Ford Taunus pulling slowly up, away their house at the Mürtschenstrasse in Niederurnen.The little boy waves uncertain, reluctant, for there goes his mother, in the rear of the Ford.She waves back, smiling, lovingly, but also with a worry line on her forehead.Forever – it seems to the boy – till she reaches the curve at the end of the street, in his mothers wave the anticipation of joy and fear and pain.The boy hops from one foot to the other; he knows:, today is a watershed in his life, everything will change, nothing will be the way it was. In the absolutism in his boyhood-view his world collapses today.And yet, there’s also that churning stomach-feeling of thrill, of excitement, of anticipation, because from today on, everything will be different, from today on he won’t be the only child anymore in the little family living in the foothills of the alps, today he would get a little sister!And the little boy sways his tiny, moist hand and waves and waves and hops and hops and then: the mother disappears around the curve and the clouds in the distance simmer over the mountainflanks as if nothing had happened at all. – In the evening the boy has a little sister, äs Schwöschterli. – The boy was I, the sister Ursula.
Ursula Läubli was born on October 13, 1964, in the Kantonsspital Glarus in Switserland.An uncomplicated birth, my mother said, and a cute baby she was.
Her first years Ursula spent in our family in Niederurnen at the foot of the Alps.After three years we moved to a suburb of Switzerland’s biggest town Zürich. In Wollishofen Ursula attended the lower grades of primary school.In 1974 we moved to the city of Winterthur, where Ursula finished her primary school, attended three years of Sekundarschule and four years of preliminary teachers college.
A lot could be told about her youth, about her teachers, her family, about her fears and her growth. The most important characteristic of Ursula is, I believe, illustrated in our second screenshot:
In her classroom in de Lehramtsschule, the preliminary teacher college,, the grand old grey building on a hill overlooking the town of Winterthur.Ursula is sagging behind her desk, a sly but also uncertain grin on her face. Her wide-sweeping hippie clothes so much in contrasts to the conventional smug looks of her classmates, who are gathered at the window. They stare down at the sports field below. The pure white of freshly fallen snow glistens in their eyes.Now and then a shy glance to the side, to my sister.A glance of recognition here, a look of surprise there, of admiration and of bewilderment.Where did she get the courage, where did she find the nerve, where did she pick up the confidence, to do what she just did?Sure: They known her as defiant, even sometimes rebellious, but just as often as sad, withdrawn, insecure.Ursula is different, they agree, Ursula is unique, selective in her friendship, absolute in her loyalty. But where did she now get the courage to publicly announce in such an blatant manner, what everybody tends to think sometimes?There, down on the snow field stands written, in meticulous footprints stamped into the white snow, legible for the entire building, the feeling that to every student is oh so well known, Scheiss Schule! Shit school!
This screenshot, this image dear listeners, shows that Ursula did go her own way, from early on in her life. She went her own way and she dared to challenge the opinions and the common sense of the world around her.She, on one side so sensitive, so vulnerable, had, on the other side an inner strength that enabled her to express herself, to present herself, to position herself like no one in her surrounding. Of course, then it was still adolescent black and white thinking, school is shit, non the less it was Ursula’s way to act. Responsible to her values, to her principles: I must be doing what I think is good, whatever it costs me, and I also have the courage to do it, I feel the inner urgency, I am alive.
There was little love lost between Ursula and the schools she attended. And I dare say: she did have bad luck with the teachers she had and the classmates she found. The most important event in her college days had nothing to do with school. It was certainly her exchange year in America, in Eden Valley, Minnesota.For the first time in her life her joy for travelling and for the discovery of the new and unexpected manifested itself.Her need for novelty and for distance. And also a second recurring quality of Ursula’s life showed here: she was a peripheral thinker. It always drew her to the edge, to the border, to the suburbs and she rarely moved to the center.No New York, no Los Angeles, no Chicago – interesting was the flat Midwest with the endless plains, Americas heartland was for Ursula more important than its centers.And this went on during her whole life: Not Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris were interesting, but Potsdam, Kharkiv, Rhamalla and Derry.Ursula’s tendency to move into periferal settings, showed itself early in life.
Finally, in 1984, she completed the preliminary teachercollege, knowing she would never be a schoolteacher.Ursula wanted to express herself artistically, wanted to dance, to mime, that came clear already in the year in America. She couldn’t picture herself learning for another four years at the university. Again her drive for adventure prevailed: Ursula – inspired by her very first danceteacher in Switzerland – took the train to Amsterdam to do an audition at the school for pantomime of Rob van Rijn.And her courage paid off: she was accepted. A surprise even to her!Soon it became apparent though, that pantomime was too limited, too specific for Ursula and so she joined after a year the modern dance school of Amsterdam, de school voor nieuwe dansontwikkeling at the Da Costakade.A young school rich of pioneering energy, perfectly matching Ursulas needs.
Willem de Weert was important to her in these first years in Amsterdam.He was her support in the big unknown city, he became her partner.Through him Ursula moved in the squatter scene of Amsterdam.But quickly she created her own circle of friends, in the émigré circles the city, among her fellow students, but also in the women scene.
And then, in 1989, she met the man, who would claim a very special place in her heart: Steve Batts was visiting senior-student at her school.He became her partner, her lover, her husband and he was her soulmate for the rest of her life.
Four years of school is a long time – too long for Ursula. As much as she loved her professional education, as much she was fascinated by the dancing, the movement, the breath – her striving for adventure got the better of her. In 1990 she took a sabbatical and did again something that no one would have expected: She went to Canada to plant trees. And she held her ground among rough minded forestry workers, more so: she felt comfortable among them.
In 1992 she graduated from her dance school.One of the first stations hereafter was Potsdam, where she participated in the build up of Die Fabrik, today a thriving cultural center in the city 30 kilometers from Berlin through giving dance and improvisation classes together with Steve.Her first genuine production came into being in these years, the duet with Steve Batts titled Willing Accomplice, which she took on tour, also among other places, in 1995 to Steve’s homecountry, Northern Ireland, to Derry, to the playhouse there. This duet became the foundation, on which the two built up their own dance company.Echoecho, as company in residence at the playhouse.
But before that came a extended period of search.Ursula tried to settle with Steve in Switzerland.In her home country where her roots lay and which she visited during her life again and again. On March 9th of the year 1994 Ursula Läubli and Steve Batts married in the smallest circle. (I wasn’t even invited!).Half a year they lived in Fruthwilen with her parents, half a year in Undervellier. In between came a long trip to Ukraine, which brings us to our next screenshot:
A dark, run-down Grandcafe in the Central Station of Krakow.Late afternoon, Ursula and Steve seek the coolness of the bar heated after a long train trip.Tired and exhausted, but also amazed of and satisfied from their journey, they order a beer and light a cigarette.A deep drag, a long sip, the smoke burns comfortably in their lungs, the beer wets the dusty throat.And then: Ursula … falls, Ursula collapses. like a felled tree, sawn through her trunk she strikes perfectly straight backwards onto the ground, exhausted, burned as struck by lightning she broke into nothingness.
Steve, shocked, of course, horrified, calls her: Ursula, Ursula, Ursula, but her eyes stay closed, Ursula, Ursula, her breath stalls, pale her complexion, like ashes, Ursula, Ursula….
Ten minutes later: the smelling salt of the station doctor has rendered Ursula conscious again, she reclines against the base of the wooden bar, confused but not frightened. She tells Steve about the dark, velvetwarm, black hole she had fallen in, where neighter top nor bottom, front nor back, today nor yesterday were no longer existing. Cold she felt not, but heat, fear not but peace, terror not but fulfillment. And in this undefined comfortable space, she heard far, far away a voice that called her, Ursula, Ursula, a voice – very weak, but very persistent, Ursula realized, that she was called back, she hesitated and then, then she decided, she followed the voice and now she is back.
Shall we buy something to eat? I’m hungry!
Steve told me that for a moment he thought she had died. It happened so suddenly, so unexpected, so abruptly. One moment she stands, the other she lay slain… he thought he had lost her… But that was just, how Ursula was: she did nothing halfway, nothing superficial.Even fainting from exhaustion, she took all the way and with her whole heart.And yet, that moment was also a sign on the wall for them, to collect themselves, to find a new home and to re-earth their life again.
Ursula and Steve decided to settle down in Ireland.The Playhouse in Derry offered them the status of a dance company in residence. Getting roots in Ursula’s home country didn’t succeed, now they would try in Steve’s.
But naturally not just like that, – that wouldn’t have fitted my sister.Steve moved to Derry in January 1997, Ursula had to undertake a little detour – around the whole world.Unexpectedly, Christoph Oertli had invited her to assist him as videographer on board on a world cruise.And while Steve built up the first contours of their new existence in Derry, Ursula sailed around the globe.She pampered the cruise guests with instant videofilms and namely she enjoyed this crash course of all cultures of the world.A world tour with countless anecdotes and stories, which she retold over the years again and again, and which gave also her artistic life new inspiration.
And then finally, in the summer of 1997, Ursula arrived in Derry. Her new home. She came as a pioneer, an pioneering work she did. Again, Ursula sought the edges, the fringes of the cultural world of Europe to create something new, something different.We had an attitude which was not located in the past , recollected Steve Batts, and through this we could take part in the peaceproces in a manner local people could not.
The first years were hard.They stayed with friends in shared apartments, together and separately, in musty old buildings, in cold damp ground floor apartments, but they built.They built the Echo Echo dance-company.Their first exlamationmark was the production Telling Times, in the winter of 1997, where they brought twenty befriended artists from Germany, Switzerland, England, Russia and Estonia to Derry for a festival.These three weeks of workshops and performances left the scent mark of Echoecho in Derry, whereupon they were able to cement their name and to finally be allotted cultural subsidies from governmental institutions.
What followed was a tough buildingproces.Ursula danced, choreographed, taught, beginners and advanced, children and adults, her youngest apprentice was a baby, her oldest a woman of a hundred years.Years of passionate work, again and again interrupted by long trips.Adventures in the new, as a counterpoint to the gruntwork.
The turn of the century then brought two major changes: Ursula and Steve separated as a couple and Ursula found her cottage in Meedinmore, finally her own home, a harbor for all the trips into the world, her own safe retreat.A place where she quickly found contact with the neighbors, where she was surrounded by comforting green hills larded with hedges and trees, where she could watch the sheep in the pasture in front of her door.A house, where she could ground, A house like a nest, where she could withdraw to in times of anguish, where she could re-energize and become calm.
And here we come to our fifth screenshot of Ursula’s life:
A beach north of Derry, windswept sky, shreds of clouds on a milky blue sky, a gentle but steady breeze from the land, rippling waves crawl onto the sandy beach and slowly tumble back into the sea.There: a gleam in the water, a stone?, no, a seal, a young seal sticks his head out of the waves and laughs silently.And there: on the beach, between the creeks of returning water, between the stones scattered in the sand, black and gleaming like the head of the seal, there… suddenly, there:Ursula dancing, like a feather, like a bird, like an antelope: Long black hair, windblown and yet one with the movement, with the jump which seems a hovering. One arm outstretched, reaching beyond the horizon, the other trailing back in time to the place where she jumped off.A movement of sublime vitality, agile and full of harmony, floating, yet purposefully grounded.Ursula dancing, In her face no smile, no sadness, but the concentrated, marble serenity of a Greek goddess.
In her last ten years Ursula moved at artistic peak. She choreographed and lectured.In Derry and abroad.She taught dance and improvisation, and later moving meditation and self-reflection through movement.She developed her own dance stile for wheelchair dancers. She also taught dance at the University of Derry.She found connections to Israel and Palestine, and brought there – as she did earlier to Potsdam and to Derry – her dance, her thinking, her whole being.She stabilized the company, anchored it in the community and strengthened it by granting promising young dancers space and responsibility, And she worked on herself, widened her spiritual background, by following retreats and teachings of Zen.
And she danced:
In 1999 Pulse, in 2003 – just to mention her most important productions –the solo: Under observation, where she worked with visual artist Christiene Muntz, in 2005 she made a second duet with Steve Batts: Resonance, which they took on tour throughout Europe.
Yes, with Steve, from whom, like I already told, she had separated in 1999. Well, separated … Steve remembered: We weren’t lovers anymore, but we kept on loving each other. The two managed to do something unique: they broke their romantic relationship but kept on working together, dancing together, managing the company together. EchoEcho remained Ursula and Steve. And even divorced – the two stayed each others confidants.Though both of them found in later years, new, and certainly also deep relationships, Steve and Ursula remained connected in a manner only true Soul Mates are able to.
It would go too far to memorize now Ursula’s stations of life in this new millennium, to recount all the lectures, teachings, relationships and encounters, all the performances and productions.The enormous mass of condolancemails that has reached us gives evidence of this fertile period of her life, bears witness to how far and how deep her influence extended, how deeply she touched people.
In 2007, Ursula encountered at the Zen meditation center in Belfast Chris Ardill.Chris was the first man since Steve, with whom Ursula saw perspective to built a long lasting love relationship. We were immediately happy in each others company, Chris described it to me.
Sadly this new fresh step in Ursula’s lovelife was colored only six months later by her sudden illness. At the end of August 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.In the following, I will not further recount Ursula’s medical history, but what must be established is, that she couldn’t have wished to have a better partner to face this challenge than Chris. His support, his solidarity, his calmness in humility before the terrible eased it for Ursula, to face the disease, face it as she faced all of life’s challenges: holistic, uncompromising and positive.
Ursula saw the disease as a chance to evolve, to shape her life and find new meaning.In this sickness, which I – and I think many others too- which I would have experienced as an ultimate expression of life’s futility, Ursula found the courage and the power to live in the moment en to enjoy what ever she had left. Ursula did not wrangle with her fate, – she prevented her fate to take away her joy of life.
She did not fight her body, which deserted her, but she stayed cherishing it, stayed loving it while she asked the utter most of its endurance.Ursula kept on dancing, with whatever ability she had left, she stayed dancing. And Steve said, that he never saw her dance so beautifully.
Also in practical life Ursula did not give up, but lived on. She moved with Chris to Carrickfergus near Belfast, to a beautiful apartment overlooking the sea.She kept on teaching and traveling.And towards the end of her life, she gravitated back to her roots, back to her parents, back to Switzerland.
She passed away after a long, not only brave, but courageously and positively accepted illness in the Lukas Clinic in Arlesheim in Switzerland at twenty minutes pas three on a sunny afternoon on Thursday April 14th 2011 .
Which brings me to my final screenshot:
A warm April day, the spring sun, shining full of promise, enters softly veiled the curtained room, where she lies, scented by incense, surrounded by candles: Ursula Läubli.Requescat in pacem.She lays on white linnen, with folded hands holding one white rose, she is encircled by spring flowers and fresh herbs, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, her clothes carry warm colors, red, brown and earthy, her black hair, speckled white, frames her even and calm face. Eyes closed, brows relaxed, the mouth slightly open, the lips a tiny smile, she lies, she lies worthy, in the dignity, in the beauty of a matured, ripe personality, here lies an old wise woman, an icon from the old days, marble pale in eternal wisdom, a priest of the ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Maya… here lies,