Anna Halprin: The Eye of a Storm

March 13, 2010

I was overwhelmed on seeing Anna Halprin’s workshop in full centrifugal force at Judson Church yesterday. Almost 50 years since the seminal Judson Dance Theater started, with crucial influence from Halprin, she was giving a workshop there for the first time. About 65 people were running, treading, walking, or standing still, feeling the momentum of the moment and the embrace of the circle. Everyone was into this Planetary Dance, choosing their own pacing and thus placement in the concentric circles. Those carried on a burst of speed joined the outermost circle, others streamed into the mid-circle, and the exhausted ones gathered toward the center, close to the drummers. People were happily feeling each other’s energy rather than trying to be “inventive.” Anna herself, standing near the drummers and occasionally whispering to them, was an almost still center, slightly jouncing along with the beat. 


In the early 60s Halprin already had her outdoor deck in the Bay Area and was doing far-out communal workshops and performance. Among those who studied with her were Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti, Sally Gross, and Meredith Monk. They all eventually became part of Judson Dance Theater, Rainer being a founding member. All learned something from Halprin, perhaps about task dances, community in performance, dance’s relations to nature, or how to be brazen in their ideas.


Many in the workshop, which was sponsored by Movement Research (the unofficial post-Judson organization), were NYC dancers or teachers from out of town. When the Planetary Dance organically wound down and all was quiet, Anna had everyone join hands and chant. We (by this time I joined in, though I swear I came just to observe) lifted our arms, delicately disentangled our hands, and then followed Anna in bringing the hands to the heart.


Later she talked about
the “life-art process” that she developed with her daughter Daria, and showed slides of it. “You need to be grounded because things that come up can be disquieting.”  The five stages of this process are identification, confrontation, release, change, and growth.


The e-blast that announced the workshop said it would address the question, Does dance make a difference? At the end of the day, one woman asked if Anna had gotten a glimpse of the answer. Halprin responded: “Oh I know it makes a difference! It’s up to each of you to decide for yourselves.”


Halprin’s belief that everyone can dance, and dance is everywhere is part of her legacy. (The critic John Rockwell, who had been in a number of Halprin performances in the 60s, told me that in California her workshops were attended by nondancers as well as dancers.) Yesterday, she expressed this in the simplest way. “When I go to the grocery story, that’s dancing. Watching a baby smile, then cry, then smile again, that’s performance for me.”

Anna, who is 89, will give another workshop in April. Stay tuned.