Thursday, December 17, 2015

Anna Halprin: Dance for the Ages

Peace Dove, 2014
Photo © Sue Heinemann
At Anna Halprin’s workshop at Moa Oasis, an ecological retreat in the southern Israeli desert, participants from all over the world created a ritual for peace, followed by a spontaneous dance of joy.

“Martha Graham used to say it takes 10 years to make a dancer,” Anna Halprin has said. “I think it takes more like 10 seconds.’”

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “Halprin’s rebellion was to declare that any movement, performed with presence and intention, could be a dance, and anybody could be a dancer.”

Many of Halprin’s 150 dance theater works not only have appealed to people of all ages but have withstood the test of time. Some are still being performed all over the world—a testament to the relevance of Halprin’s dance/movement philosophy today.

Blank Placard Dance

Blank Placard Dance, 1967 Courtesy of Anna Halprin
The Vietnam War–era Blank Placard Dance was first performed in 1967 by Halprin and her dance company, the San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop. A response to the political climate and growing protest culture of the 1960s, it was designed to promote audience participation and active involvement in issues that mattered to people and communities.

“We marched down Market Street carrying placards that were blank, telling people to put their protest on the placard,” Anna explained. “So we didn’t say what the protest was, but people would say, ‘Well, what are you protesting?’ Because it was blank. And we would say, ‘What would you like to protest?’”

What Matters to Us? A Reenactment of Anna Halprin’s Blank Placard Dance, 2015.
Photo by Marco Rivera; courtesy of the Tamalpa Institute.
The Blank Placard Dance was reenacted in May 2015 in San Francisco as part of the inaugural event of a worldwide celebration of Anna Halprin’s 95th birthday, What Matters to Us?

One participant observed:  “What Matters to Us? included a public intervention at the 24th Street BART station, a walking meditation down Balmy Alley led by Halprin, and a culminating event in Garfield Square. In addition to the placard-holding performers, the participants included an ensemble of ten musicians and percussionists . . . , additional performers who interacted directly with the public, and various interested amblers who joined in along the way. Three hours, three unique acts, and one seemingly simple ambition: to engage the public in an exercise to populate the reverse of each blank-faced placard with colorful Post-it notes that would collectively answer the question, ‘What matters to us?’”

Planetary Dance
Anna Halprin in Planetary Dance, c. 1980s
Courtesy of Museum of Performance + Design
Planetary Dance, an all-day participatory dance ritual of healing and community renewal, is performed each spring the world over. A dance for peace, it grew out of one of Halprin’s earlier ritual dances, Circle the Earth. Planetary Dance, Halprin says, is “not a pretend experience, it’s not make-believe. It's not done­­––art for art’s sake. It’s done actually to create some kind of change, or to honor some particular event.”
Participants in Halprin’s Planetary Dance, c. 1990s
Courtesy of Museum of Performance + Design
The central component of the dance is the Earth Run. A San Francisco radio station explained: “First, people declare their intentions verbally one by one, standing up from a kneeling position. Then, dancers form three circles, one inside the other, moving in different directions. There are options for running fast, jogging, walking, or being still. Musicians in the center of the circle provide a steady beat. This simple and accessible choreography invites everyone into the dance, no matter their training or physical ability.”
Anna Halprin Teaching Planetary Dance, May 2015
Photo © Sue Heinemann
For 35 years, Planetary Dance has provided a portal to Halprin’s work as participants engage with challenging social issues. In 1995, Halprin staged one variation, Planetary Dance: A Call for Peace, in Berlin at a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Potsdam Agreement ending World War II. In 2008, as a political statement, she performed a version of the dance with 1,000 artists in the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. In 2014, she brought the dance to Israel, where as one of many calls for peace sent from around the world she declared, “I dance for children everywhere, that they may be safe, protected, and loved.”

What interests me,” Halprin says, “is an art that is connected to life, where the social, political, spiritual, and aesthetic threads are all interwoven in a real way. What inspires me about dance, specifically, is its power to teach, inspire, heal, and transform. I want to make dances that grow out of lived experience, allowing my art to deepen my life and my life to expand my art.”

Shelly KalePublications and Strategic Projects Manager

Anna Halprin’s Planetary Dance: People power for peace,
God Must Be a Dancer: Interview with Anna Halprin, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage,
Highlights of Anna Halprin’s Recent Trip to Israel,
Rachel Howard, “95th birthday tribute to Anna Halprin, postmodern dance pioneer,” May 30, 2015, SFGATE,
Vanessa Kauffman, What Matters to Us?: A Reenactment of Anna Halprin’s Blank Placard Dance, June 11, 2015;
Planetary Dance – A Story,
Planetary Dance,

Learn more about Anna Halprin at the California Historical Society’s exhibition Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops, 1966–1971 and its related programs, January 21–May 1, 2016.

“I am delighted that Experiments in the Environment will be coming to its home base in San Francisco, the home of radical, humanistic, and participatory innovation. The exhibit excites me as well because it is including a new section describing my collaboration with Larry and our work beyond the Experiments. As Larry inspired me with his sensitivity to the environment which influenced my experiments, I influenced him in my use of movement audience participation as I pioneered new forms in dance. This combined exhibition shows the impact we had on each other throughout our lives and I hope it helps people understand our work better.”—Anna Halprin, 2015

Post a Comment