Skip to content

About Anna Halprin: Breath Made Visible

I have followed postmodern dance pioneer, Anna Halprin, in very small doses over a long span and this documentary about her life did not change my impressions. I find her work underwhelming except for a few astonishing images, her integrity and longevity, and the first film piece of hers I saw when I was a student at Bennington College in 1972. I have remembered “Parades & Changes” after one viewing for nearly 30 years. That says much for its impact on me — the slow, gentle way the dancers removed their clothes to Petula Clark’s “Downtown”; the sound of the tearing paper. So simple and expansive.  It’s the dance that drew me back to her. It is one example among many of slow, conscious movement that continues to contribute to my own performance.

The documentary is lovely. To see any dancer’s life so affectionately, patiently, and fully framed on film is a blessing. Her activism reminded how front-and-center dance stood in the counter-culture movements of the 60’s and 70’s. Dance was so valued, so vibrant; it truly became a full-fledged art. I still look around at our current dance climate and say “what happened?”

I wished there had been more of her pale chalk-caked body  sitting in the crook of the embankment stroking her cheek with dark mud. More of that. And of her wrapped in fabric rolled by the ocean waves. More of that. Less biographical interview and more of her body, her dance…

Share the movement...
    2 Comments
    1. Hi sweetie, I wondered if you had ever worked with Anna Halprin. You wrote “I wished there had been more of her pale chalk-caked body sitting in the crook of the embankment stroking her cheek with dark mud. More of that. And of her wrapped in fabric rolled by the ocean waves. More of that. Less biographical interview and more of her body, her dance…”

      That exists already in the 2003 film, “Returning Home” – have you seen it? I caught it recently online, and it got under my skin. She was like an ancient Jewish Noh-master! So I was moved to go see her the other night at the screening of “Breath Made Visible” in Santa Cruz, particularly since several of my friends here have studied with her over the years.

      I was no less moved by the biographical film, for in seeing this and hearing about her process and her life, as well as excerpts from her dances, I know why I and all others in the arts MUST do what we do. It’s the same reaction I had to seeing “Rivers and Tides,” the documentary about the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. But then, I’m one who likes those huge exhibits at the Met and SF MOMA that recreate the lives of the artists alongside their work.

      Her activist works, and her Gestalt and ritual stuff are not necessarily performance-worthy and as such, I can understand why you are underwhelmed by the body of her work. At the Q&A after the film, Halprin said she dislikes being called a “pioneer of post-modern dance” and I think she’s right on about that, though perhaps not for the reasons she thinks. She’s not so much a dance pioneer as a pioneer of exploring what makes us tick, as artists and as people. For that, my hat’s off to her, if not my clothes. 🙂

      And yes, I longed to see more of her dance and her body too. I was struck by her ancient hands and the story they told.

      May 17, 2010
    2. I’d love to see “Tides & Rivers”. I love Goldsworthy’s work! ‘
      I have all of two workshops with Halprin so, no, I haven’t studied with her; I’ve merely had a tiny taste.That’s because neither her energy nor her thesis called to me. But I respect her life work immensely; as well, her longevity with her art deeply inspires while I look for icons for this next phase of my own dance life. I disagree that her ritual art isn’t performance-worthy. I think that body of work, while not my cup of tea, is valid on its own terms. It sits outside the parametrs of theatre presentation living more in the witnessed ceremonial realm.

      Your point about doing what we must do is well taken. Yes, yes, yes. There is truly no other way (no matter how little we might mean to our surrounding world.) And women particularly. And women’s spiritual quests particularly. Anything that strengthens the latter two or anyone who undertakes that is my hero. Or She-Hero. (Shero?)

      May 21, 2010

    Comments are closed.