Fifty Years Ago in Dance Magazine: Anna Halprin

Anna Halprin was always ahead of her time. She combined community, environment and improvisation in daring experiments. Driftwood City, a collaborative project that came out of a summer workshop she co-led with her architect husband Lawrence Halprin, landed on our cover in November 1966. They brought dancers and architects together to explore ways they could collaborate at various sites in both urban and natural environments. Jack Anderson’s cover story, “Dancers and Architects Build Kinetic Environments,” describes some of these experiments.

For one event, 40 of this interdisciplinary group infiltrated Union Square in San Francisco. At the stroke of 3 pm, they each walked slowly to the center of the square, inflated a balloon, let it go or gave it to a child, and walked away. Call it the first flash mob. But it was just another example of Anna Halprin’s passion for bringing dance into public life.

Another experiment, with the goal of finding “fresh sensory experience,” was a full day of silence—totally free of talking and writing. Imagine how that would go down in this day of iPhones!

Halprin’s belief that everyone can dance has been a signature of her choreography and teaching. “I want to make theater a shared experience,” she says in this article, “between performer and audience with content which deeply affects our sense of values.”

Automobile event, pictured in Nov. 1966. John Graham of San Francisco Dancers' Workshop partnering Volkswagen, photo Paul Ryan

She developed a method of healing through movement and drawing after she healed her own cancer in her 50s. She’s helped individuals with terminal diseases and she’s helped whole communities move toward well being.

Two years after the initial Driftwood City, the Halprins gave a seven-day workshop to rebuild it in Sea Ranch, California, as Driftwood Village Rebuilt. The California Historical Society recently had an exhibit focusing on this workshop.

Driftwood Village Rebuilt—Day 6, Lawrence Halprin Collection

Halprin, now 96, is still going strong as a teacher and we’ve tried to keep up. Read her “Teacher’s Wisdom” here, and see a follow up in my recent blog. Her Parades and Changes (1965-67) earned her a place in our "Shocking Dances of the Past” story for its use of nudity, and in our November 2012 Women’s Issue, she was profiled in “Nine Who Dared,” our round-up of particularly courageous women in the dance world.

We commend Halprin on 50 years (and more) of bravery, interdisciplinary exploration, and community and individual healing work. Long live Anna Halprin!

(Thanks to Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts and the Architectural Archives of the U of Pennsylvania for use of above photo.)

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