Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance

Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance

Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance

Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance


Anna Halprin pioneered what became known as "postmodern dance," creating work that was key to unlocking the door to experimentation in theater, music, Happenings, and performance art. This first comprehensive biography examines Halprin's fascinating life in the context of American culture--in particular popular culture and the West Coast as a center of artistic experimentation from the Beats through the Hippies. Janice Ross chronicles Halprin's long, remarkable career, beginning with the dancer's grandparents--who escaped Eastern European pogroms and came to the United States at the turn of the last century--and ending with the present day, when Halprin continues to defy boundaries between artistic genres as well as between participants and observers. As she follows Halprin's development from youth into old age, Ross describes in engrossing detail the artist's roles as dancer, choreographer, performance theorist, community leader, cancer survivor, healer, wife, and mother.

Halprin's friends and acquaintances include a number of artists who charted the course of postmodern performance. Among her students were Trisha Brown, Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer, Meredith Monk, and Robert Morris. Ross brings to life the vital sense of experimentation during this period. She also illuminates the work of Anna Halprin's husband, the important landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, in the context of his wife's environmental dance work. Using Halprin's dance practices and works as her focus, Ross explores the effects of danced stories on the bodies who perform them. The result is an innovative consideration of how experience becomes performance as well as a masterful account of an extraordinary life.


Richard Schechner

In the 2003 film Returning Home, Anna Halprin, naked, settles into the earth, her whole body drenched in mud. This mud is not filtered or “clean.” It is full of clumps of earth and pebbles, dark brown, “primal.” As is eighty-year-old-Halprin. She is one with the mud, the landscape … and—dare I say it?—with herself. Still vibrantly alive, she enacts her physical return to her—and our—ultimate home in dirt and death. As we see her body immersed, we hear Halprin’s voice: “We’ve been alienated from the natural world. We need to find a way to reenter.”

To “reenter” has been Halprin’s perduring action through the eight and a half decades of her life. a cancer survivor, dancer, choreographer, performance theorist, community leader, healer, wife, mother—through the stages of life from youth into old age, Halprin has left one stage only to enter another. in the 1960s Halprin pioneered what was to be known as “postmodern dance.” Her work was a key that unlocked the door leading to all kinds of experimentation in theater, music, Happenings, and performance art. Over her long and fecund career, Halprin’s glory has been to pay scant attention to boundaries. Art, ritual, play, healing, exorcism, personal statement, archetype have all been concatenated in Halprin’s participatory work. Nor has she, even as an old woman, sat down satisfied to watch others. Halprin leads by doing. Being one of the pioneers of participation in perfor-

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