Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Defying traditional notions of dance, Anna has extended its boundaries to address social issues, build community, foster both physical and emotional healing, and connect people to nature. In response to the racial unrest of the 1960s, she brought together a group of all-black and a group of all-white dancers in a collaborative performance, Ceremony of Us. She then formed the first multiracial dance company and increasingly focused on social justice themes. When she was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1970s, she used dance as part of her healing process and subsequently created innovative dance programs for cancer and AIDS patients. An early pioneer in the use of expressive arts for healing, she co-founded the Tamalpa Institute with her daughter Daria in 1978. Today, the Tamalpa’s ArtCorps program continues a vision close to Anna's heart: using dance as a healing and peace-making force for people all over the world.

With her husband, the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, Anna developed methods of generating collective creativity. During the late 1960s and early 70s, they led a series of workshops called “Experiments in the Environment,” bringing dancers, architects, and other artists together and exploring group creativity in relation to awareness of the environment, in both rural and urban settings. Increasingly, Anna’s performances moved out of the theater and into the community, helping people address social and emotional concerns. An ongoing community effort, now more than 35 years old, is her Planetary Dance, promoting peace among people and peace with the Earth. Open to everyone, it has been performed in more than 50 countries. In 1995 more than 400 participants joined her in a Planetary Dance in Berlin commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Potsdam Agreements, at the end of World War II. More recently, she took the Planetary Dance to Israel, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians as well as other nationalities.

Over her long career Anna has created more than 150 dance theater works and written three books. Many of her dances have grown out of her life experiences. After her husband faced a life-threatening crisis, for instance, she developed the performance Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying (2000). Facing her own aging, she worked with older people in her community to evolve Seniors Rocking (2005), performed by over 50 elders outdoors in rocking chairs. To honor the memory of her husband, she created a trilogy, including Spirit of Place, a site-specific work in an outdoor theater space he had designed (performed in 2009, shortly before his death). In 2013 she revisited her groundbreakingParades and Changes (1965), retaining its essence but adding new sections to heighten its relevance for today’s world. For her 95th birthday celebration in July 2015 she joined her grandson Jahan Khalighi in a poetic duet, passing on a lifetime of memories and wisdom to her heirs.

Parades and Changes (1965–67 and revivals)

Parades and Changes is always evolving; it is never performed in the same way. Although it includes distinct scores, which specify activities over time in space with people, these are not fixed; they simply tell people what to do, not how to do it. Certain scores may be dropped or new ones added to fit the demands of a particular performance environment or social situation. One of the best-known scores involves dressing and undressing, revealing how an ordinary task can become a dance when it is done with awareness by the performer. When the piece premiered in Sweden in 1965, this revolutionary use of nudity onstage was seen as a “ceremony of trust,” but two years later, in New York City, it led to a warrant for Anna’s arrest. For a 2013 re-creation at the Berkeley Art Museum, Anna introduced new scores in response to violent killings and the need for reconciliation—scores that evolved yet again when performed in Israel in 2014 by the Vertigo Dance Company.

Vertigo Eco Art Village


Jerusalem Promenade designed by her husband and architect, Lawrence Halprin.  

Most recently, in the fall of 2014 Lawrence’s wife, the postmodern dance legend Anna Halprin, traveled to Israel. There she led over 100 Mulsim, Chrisian, and Druze women on a peace walk along the Goldman Promenade. This interplay between Lawrence’s landscape designs and Anna’s dances was one of the hallmarks of their marriage and professional relationship.

Seniors Rocking (2005)

Affirming that “people of any age can dance,” Anna worked with seniors in local retirement centers. “In some cases their movement was limited or their balance skills were compromised,” she notes, “so we used rocking chairs, allowing everyone to participate safely.” A performance was held outdoors, next to a lagoon at the Marin Civic Center. The seniors’ continuous rocking symbolized the heartbeat of life itself. At the end, each performer picked up a red rose from under the chair, placed it on the seat, said good-bye, and walked to the water’s edge, where in unison the dancers raised their arms, sending their legacies up to the birds to pass on. What came through was these seniors’ spirit, as can be seen in Ruedi Gerber’s film Seniors Rocking


Blank Placard Dance (1970 and revivals)

At a time of multiple protests against the Vietnam War and social injustices, Anna invited people on the street to voice their concerns. A group of white-clad performers marched down city streets carrying blank placards, and taking care to keep 10 feet apart to avoid the need for a permit. When asked, “What are you protesting?” the performers inquired, “What do you want to protest?” and collected the answers. After writing the responses on the placards, they walked back, bearing the spectators’ messages. This piece has been reenacted several times, including the  performance What Matters to Us in 2015 in San Francisco’s diverse Mission District, home to many colorful murals addressing cultural and sociopolitical issues.

Ceremony of Us (1969)

A few years after the 1965 racial unrest in Los Angeles, Anna was invited to work with Studio Watts on a performance for a festival at the Mark Taper Forum. She saw this as an opportunity to explore race relations through dance. For five months she worked separately with an all-black group in Watts and an all-white group in San Francisco, doing the same scores. Then, for ten days, she brought the two groups together to develop the performance. “During those days, working and living together,” Anna later said, “they collectively created their performance around the experience of becoming one group. My role was to see what the group was most ready for and what materials turned them on, then to guide them in choreographing their own responses.” For the performance, the entering audience had to choose between two doors into the auditorium: one where all the black performers were lined up or one with all the white dancers. At the end the performers brought the audience together, inviting them to join a conga line processing to the plaza outside.

Myths (10 events, 1967–68)

Taking note of strong spectator reactions to some of her performances, Anna began exploring ways for audiences to participate, seeing her role as a guide to generating creativity. Her announcement for these 10 participatory events read: “Each evening will explore a different relationship between the audience and the performers, and between our awareness, our bodies, and our environments…. Myths are your myths. They are an experiment in mutual creation.” The 10 events were named Creation, Atonement, Trails, Totem, Maze, Dreams, Carry, Masks, Storytelling, and Ohm (referring to the sound). Central to the participants’ experiences were the different environments designed by Patric Hickey.

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