Anna Halprin 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
They say that seeing is believing, but in Anna Halprin’s case seeing is being
amazed. Halprin was in Israel a couple of weeks ago to front some dance
workshops at various locations around the country, including Neveh Shalom and
the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance of the Hebrew University.
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also attended the Spirit Film Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, where the
documentary about her life, entitled Breath Made Visible, was screened; so
naturally, she gave a workshop there, too. Halprin had a pretty busy
schedule during her visit here from San Francisco which, considering she is one
of the pioneers of experimental or post-modern dance, is only to be expected. On
the other hand, Halprin turned 90 earlier this year.
workshop Halprin conducted at the academy was a wonderful and enlightening
experience, and the nonagenarian showed few signs of fatigue during the long
stint with the students, some of whom could have been her
For nigh on 70 years, Halprin has followed her
belief that anyone can dance and that everyone should dance as they feel,
without the strictures of acquired education.
“I became disenchanted with
the pioneers of modern dance, like Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey,” she
declares. “I was initially drawn to them, but after a while I saw that if you
studied with Martha Graham, for example, you danced like Martha Graham. But that
isn’t right. We should express what we are, not what our teacher tells us to
That ethos came across loud and clear during the workshop in
Jerusalem. Halprin, who was visiting Israel as a Fellow of the Fulbright
Program of the United States-Israel Educational Foundation, regaled the
participants with colorful tales of her encounters with Native Americans and of
her artistic endeavor, as well as humorous anecdotes from her long life thus
The highlight of the workshop was the Planetary Dance, which was
inspired by a piece of advice Halprin had received from a 109- year-old shaman
around 30 years ago. We ended up dancing and running in concentric circles for
quite a while, expending bucketloads of energy but palpably feeding off some
other energy source. It was an exhilarating experience for one and all,
including Halprin who observed us with great joy.
“The Planetary Dance is
now performed in 46 countries across the world,” Halprin told me in a
post-workshop interview. “It seems to have just taken off.”
HERSELF “took off” a long time ago. She started ballet lessons at the age of
five, but her mother soon took her out of the course when her daughter was
laughed at by the other students for her seemingly ungainly poise. Even
at that tender age, it set Halprin off on a quest for selfexpression through
dance, a path she has steadfastly followed ever since.
After leaving high
school, Halprin attended the University of Wisconsin and came across a person
whom she calls “the best teacher I could have wished for.” The mentor in
question was Margaret H’Doubler, who emphasized the importance of personal
creativity and encouraged the study of anatomy to achieve the most effective
ways of moving. Halprin imbibed this with gusto and soon began putting
theory into practice.
In the 1950s she established the San Francisco
Dancers’ Workshop to give artists like herself a safe haven in which to practice
their art. She freely explored the capabilities of her own body and created a
systematic way of moving using kinesthetic awareness. Much of this work was
undertaken on a large deck constructed at her San Francisco home by her husband,
Lawrence, who was a landscape architect and designed the promenade in Armon
Hanatziv in Jerusalem.
As has often been the case with artists with a
tendency for thinking and working outside the box, there is a backlash from the
mainstream avenues of art or from the general public. Halprin was on the
receiving end of a generous dose of vitriol when her company performed Parade
in New York in 1968, which included a scene with nudity. She was
hounded out of town and warned that she would be incarcerated if she ventured
back to the Big Apple.
Since beating a bout with cancer almost 40 years
ago – which she says she cured through dance when she released “a big black
bird” from inside her – Halprin has devoted much of her time and talents to
teaching and to healing physical and social ills. In the late 1960s,
following race riots in Los Angeles, she worked with a white dance company and
an African- American group, eventually bringing them together.
a learning experience for all of us,” she recalls. “We all realized that we had
preconceptions about blacks and whites – me included.”
anything, Halprin feels her Jewish roots have informed her entire life and work.
“I think my Jewishness comes into everything I do – my value system and what I
consider liberal and democratic. I hate anything autocratic. I will not bow down
before a golden image.”