Anna Halprin's Awe-Inspiring Dance Life

April 25, 2010

The momentous breakthroughs of Anna Halprin’s career have been captured in a new film titled Breath Made Visible. Halprin’s work is famous for crossing the borders between dance and healing, art and life, and performance and psychology. The intertwining of her love for dance and her closeness to nature is beautifully revealed in this film, made by Ruedi Gerber and showing this week at Cinema Village (click here for schedule ).

The film traces her turning away from modern dance greats Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham in favor of independence and inclusiveness. The idea that everyone can dance is a cornerstone in Halprin’s lifelong work. She built a romantic and philosophical alliance with architect Lawrence Halprin, and together their goal through the decades was to elicit creativity in people.

For me the surprise was the highly theatrical character work Halprin did with A.A. Leath and John Graham in the late 1950s and early ’60s. I wish I could have seen that when it happened. Later on, she developed remarkable rituals that doubled as art and community healing.

Halprin always insisted on making dances that matter. Her work with black youth in Watts after the race riots there made headway toward integration. In 1980 her community dance Earth Run helped apprehend a murderer who had been running loose on Mt. Tamalpais. Her Art/Life Process (daughter Daria provides the psychological half, and Anna the art half) is now done in many schools and hospitals all over the world.

Halprin’s flair for the comic as a young dancer leavens the film. And the sensual, tactile nature of her dancing as a mature—and beyond mature—dancer burnishes the images to a deep luster. There are so many scenes of Halprin to savor: rolling in the waves like some amphibious creature washing up on shore, teaching people to use their hands; screaming with rage about her cancer; and coaxing seniors to dance at Sea Ranch. Not to mention her utter joy as a teenage daredevil on a bicycle.

Seeing this film—with its whimsy, warmth, affection, and humor—one comes away with a sense of Anna Halprin as a national treasure. Treat yourself and see the film this week at Cinema Village. If you’re not in NYC, click here  to see other cities where it’s showing.

Photo courtesy
Breath Made Visible