View Spark segment on Anna Halprin. Original air date: May 2006. (Running Time: 11:04)
View Spark Web extra with an excerpt from Anna Halprin’s “Intensive Care” (Running Time: 3:55)
Dance legend Anna Halprin, now in her eighties, has spent more than 50 years challenging the conventions of modern dance. A visionary in the field, she continues to teach, choreograph and perform. In January 2006, she brought a group of dancers to the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco to perform some of her work, including the two well-known pieces “Parades and Changes” and “Intensive Care.” Spark follows Halprin as she prepares for the performances and talks about her lifetime as artist, teacher, health advocate and innovator.
Halprin teaches dance to people of all ages, helping them to build awareness of their bodies. She explores how the mind informs the body and how the body can inform the mind. Through one’s own creative process, Halprin believes, each of us will find a path of personal discovery through movement.
When it first premiered in New York City in 1965, “Parades and Changes” provoked significant scandal because the dancers fully disrobe and redress, three different times. Halprin says the piece is about “the process of undressing, finding your place in space.” Halprin created this piece like she creates most of her dances, using a special set of instructions called a score, much like a musical score that provides instruction for the dancers on what to do, but that allows them to decide how they do it.
Forty years after its premier, “Parades and Changes” is still an audience favorite, and Halprin continues to refine it, keeping it elastic and keeping audiences connected. This ongoing dynamism is just one expression of Halprin’s commitment to continually challenge ideas about what dance should be.
In 2000, Halprin debuted “Intensive Care,” a piece that explores the themes of pain, love, healing and death. “It is not an easy performance to watch,” she notes. Halprin originated the dance while her husband was in intensive care for a month. Over time, the piece has become connected to different ideas. For Halprin, this dance is now connected to the war in Iraq, the suffering in the world and other news items she has read. Halprin says that today, the dance is “dedicated to the suffering and fear and the disasters in the world.”
Halprin also continues to challenge traditional notions about who can dance. In 2005, she began working with seniors in Marin County to create a dance together. She found an island in a lagoon at the Civic Center in San Rafael that would be the site of the dance, and she asked the community for donations, receiving 69 rocking chairs for the dancers to use. She and the seniors then developed a score and created their dance. “I never saw such soulful dancing in my life,” Halprin says.
Born in Winnetka, Illinois, Halprin discovered dance as a child, and as a teenager she studied with Josephine Schwarz, who had been a dancer with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Halprin became a protégée of Margaret H’Doubler. Following World War II, Halprin moved to San Francisco with her husband, landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. There she extended H’Doubler’s approach to movement discovery into improvisation.
Halprin co-founded the Tamalpa Institute in Marin County, an institute that offers training in the Halprin Process, a movement-based healing arts practice. Halprin has received many awards and honors over the years, including fellowships for choreography from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Dance Guild Award, the Balasaraswati Award from the American Dance Festival, the prestigious Dance Magazine Award and the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award. Halprin has also been documented in the Bay Area’s Legacy Oral History Project at the San Francisco’s Performing Arts Library & Museum (PALM).