Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Celebrating the Legendary Dance Pioneer Anna Halprin

Anna Halprin; photo by Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle
As 2015 comes to a close, so, too, does the year-long, worldwide 95th birthday celebration for the postmodern dance pioneer Anna Halprin. National and international tributes have brought a renewed focus to Anna’s contributions to performance, choreography, and dance education.

Following her move to San Francisco from New York City in 1945, Anna embarked on developing a personal philosophy about movement and dance. Freed from traditional approaches, she began experimenting with the role of the senses and the natural environment in the creation of dance. She has never stopped exploring.

Anna Halprin in Her Work Madrona, c. 1954 Photographer unknown; Anna Halprin Papers, Museum of Performance + Design

In 1955, Anna founded the trailblazing dance group the San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop. According to the Anna Halprin Digital Archive, “Her intent was to create a pure, abstract form of dance focusing upon movement. Through integration of primitive and modern dance, as well as the use of improvisation, Halprin and her students began to develop a new conception of dance that allowed for individual, spontaneous movement as opposed to following pre-determined choreography.” Twenty-three years later, in 1978, Anna and her daughter Daria founded the Tamalpa Institute, which to this day continues Anna’s lifelong work in the expressive arts.

Anna Halprin and a Female Performer outside the Dancers’ Workshop Studio in San Francisco, 1970. Photographer unknown; Anna Halprin Papers, Museum of Performance + Design

Anna’s experiments came to fruition in the changing social and political movements of the 1960s. In 1966, she and her husband, the late landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, devised a series of experimental, interdisciplinary workshops in the Bay Area that explored new and creative ways to live in and move through the environment.

“Driftwood Village—Community,” Sea Ranch, CA. Experiments in Environment Workshop, July 6, 1968. Courtesy Lawrence Halprin Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania

The revolutionary decades of the 1960s and 1970s came to an end, but Anna’s groundbreaking explorations continued. In recent decades, she has focused on using dance and movement for creating ritual, healing, aging, and demonstrating our potential to facilitate change in the world.

(Left) Poster for Anna Halprin’s Circle the Mountain: Dance in the Spirit of Peace Workshop, 1985. (Right) Anna Halprin in her work “Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying,” 2002 Photographer unknown; Anna Halprin Papers, Museum of Performance + Design

Shelly Kale 
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager 

You can learn more about Anna and Lawrence 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 

See also earlier essays about Anna Halprin: 

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