Photo: Kent Reno
Since the late 1930s Anna Halprin has been creating revolutionary directions for dance, inspiring artists in all fields. Richard Schechner, editor of TDR: The Drama Review, calls her “one of the most important and original thinkers in performance.” Merce Cunningham said, “What’s she’s done … is a very strong part of dance history.” Through her students Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, and Simone Forti, Anna strongly influenced New York’s Judson Dance Theater, one of the seedbeds of postmodern dance. She also collaborated with such innovative musicians as Terry Riley, LaMonte Young, Morton Subotnik, and Luciano Berio, as well as poets Richard Brautigan, James Broughton, and Michael McClure. Among the many other important artists who have studied with her are Robert Morris, Chip Lord, Meredith Monk, Eiko and Koma, Wanda Coleman, Janine Antoni, Carrie Mae Weems, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dohee Lee, and Dana and Shinichi Iova-Koga.
“one of the most important and original thinkers in performance” — Richard Schechner, editor of TDR
Defying traditional notions of dance, Anna has extended its boundaries to address social issues, build community, foster both physical and emotional healing, and connect people to nature. In response to the racial unrest of the 1960s, she brought together a group of all-black and a group of all-white dancers in a collaborative performance, Ceremony of Us. She then formed the first multiracial dance company and increasingly focused on social justice themes. When she was diagnosed with with cancer in the early 1970s, she used dance as part of her healing process and subsequently created innovative dance programs for cancer and AIDS patients. An early pioneer in the use of expressive arts for healing, she co-founded the Tamalpa Institute with her daughter Daria in 1978. Today, the Tamalpa’s ArtCorps program continues a vision close to Anna's heart: using dance as a healing and peace-making force for people all over the world.
With her husband, the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, Anna developed methods of generating collective creativity. During the late 1960s and early 70s, they led a series of workshops called “Experiments in the Environment,” to bringing dancers, architects, and other artists together and exploring group creativity in relation to awareness of the environment, in both rural and urban settings. Increasingly, Anna’s performances moved out of the theater and into the community, helping people address social and emotional concerns. An ongoing community effort, now more than 35 years old, is her Planetary Dance, promoting peace among people and peace with the Earth. Open to everyone, it has been performed in more than 50 countries. In 1995 more than 400 participants joined her in a Planetary Dance in Berlin commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Potsdam Agreements, at the end of World War II. More recently, she took the Planetary Dance to Israel, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians as well as other nationalities.
Over her long career Anna has created more than 150 dance theater works and written three books. Many of her dances have grown out of her life experiences. After her husband faced a life-threatening crisis, for instance, she developed the performance Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying (2000). Facing her own aging, she worked with older people in her community to evolve Seniors Rocking (2005), performed by over 50 elders outdoors in rocking chairs. To honor the memory of her husband, she created a trilogy, including Spirit of Place, a site-specific work in an outdoor theater space he had designed (performed in 2009, shortly before his death). In 2013 she revisited her groundbreaking Parades and Changes (1965), retaining its essence but adding new sections to heighten its relevance for today’s world. For her 95th birthday celebration in July 2015 she joined her grandson Jahan Khalighi in a poetic duet, passing on a lifetime of memories and wisdom to her heirs.
Several films celebrate Anna’s work, including Andy Abrahams Wilson’s award-winning Returning Home and Ruedi Gerber’s acclaimed Breath Made Visible. The Dance Heritage Coalition has named Anna Halprin one of “America’s irreplaceable dance treasures.” Her many honors include the Doris Duke Impact Award and Isadora Duncan Dance Award in 2014, as well as earlier awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim Foundation, American Dance Festival, University of Wisconsin, and San Francisco Foundation.
In 2006 Anna was given a solo exhibition at Lyon’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which traveled to San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the art museum of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is planning to showcase her work in 2017. Her work has been featured in recent shows on performance art at MoMA PS 1, Centre Pompidou, and ZKM Museum, among other venues.
The Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco houses the Anna Halprin Digital Archive. Additional material is available in the Anna Halprin Papers at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.