Photo: John Kokoska (Spirit of Place)
Remembering Lawrence: A Trilogy
Spirit of Place (2009)
In the Fever of Love: Song of Songs (2011)
Trip to Israel (2014)
Anna and her husband, the renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, strongly influenced each other’s work, at times teaching workshops together. To honor his contribution, Anna created this trilogy. Spirit of Place was performed in 2009, a few months before Larry’s death, in Stern Grove, an outdoor theater Larry had designed in a San Francisco park. Anna placed the audience on the stage, while the performers, as well as ordinary passersby, moved through the rest of the mystical environment Larry had created. She wanted people to see not just the dancers, but “the whole picture—the flying bird, the laughing child—because all of life is a dance.” In the Fever of Love, staged on the dance deck Larry designed for Anna, was inspired by Larry’s erotic drawings from the 1940s (which Anna discovered only after his death), as well as his wartime love letters. “I tried to bring Larry to life with his own material,” she said. The final piece in the tribute to Larry was a trip to Israel, which included leading a multifaith women’s peace walk along a promenade he designed in Jerusalem and introducing his RSVP process of collective creativity to Israel’s Vertigo Dance Company.
On a trip to Paris, Anna was deeply moved by Auguste Rodin’s sculptures, which offered a counter to devastating images of war and violence. She decided to use these artworks as the inspiration for a portrayal of the human body as a reflection of nature. In exploratory rehearsals at Sea Ranch, Anna guided her dancers to respond to both Rodin’s images and the environment around them, whether the ocean or a forest. The final piece was performed in a redwood grove at Anna’s Kentfield studio. Ruedi Gerber’s 2015 film Journey in Sensuality: Anna Halprin and Rodin poetically reveals the creative process behind this performance.
Photo: John Kokoska
Seniors Rocking (2005)
Affirming that “people of any age can dance,” Anna worked with seniors in local retirement centers. “In some cases their movement was limited or their balance skills were compromised,” she notes, “so we used rocking chairs, allowing everyone to participate safely.” A performance was held outdoors, next to a lagoon at the Marin Civic Center. The seniors’ continuous rocking symbolized the heartbeat of life itself. At the end, each performer picked up a red rose from under the chair, placed it on the seat, said good-bye, and walked to the water’s edge, where in unison the dancers raised their arms, sending their legacies up to the birds to pass on. What came through was these seniors’ spirit, as can be seen in Ruedi Gerber’s film Seniors Rocking.
Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying (2000, 2004, 2006)
A little over a year after her husband almost died, spending months in the hospital, Anna confronted her feelings about death—fear, anger, regret, sadness, panic, even guilt—with this dance. “It started as a solo,” she told Janice Ross, “but I wanted to expand the idea of the dance so it wasn’t so personal and to explore our different experiences around theme of death and dying to find our commonalities.” Critic Rachel Howard described the performance as “relentlessly compelling”; Allan Ulrich wrote, “It is not an easy piece to watch; and … it was not easy to turn away, either.” “There was nothing pretty about it,” Anna says. “It was raw. One of the original dancers, Jeff Rehg, had AIDS at the time, and he died about a year after the performance.”
Photo: John Kokoska
Photo: Rick Chapman
The Courtesan and the Crone (2000–)
“This was the first dance I did dealing with my own aging process,” Anna says. “On a trip to Venice, my daughter Daria bought me a beautiful courtesan’s mask, as a reminder of the time we spent performing Esposizione there. I put it on, and the radio happened to be playing Corelli’s Concerto in D. I ran upstairs, picked up the fancy coat I’d gotten for a White House ceremony, and began responding to the beguiling mask with the radio music. Once I took the mask off, I became an old lady—the crone.” (video)
Still Dance with Anna Halprin (1998–2002)
In this collaboration Anna performed Eeo Stubblefield’s “still dance” score, which involves, in Stubblefield’s words, a “conversation with the land” and “the arrival at the ‘still point’ in which the voice of a living place is responded to by a performer.” For years Anna had been exploring her body in the environment, dancing in the forest, by the ocean, and in other natural sites. “I receive physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment from nature,” she has said. “I also look to nature to discover what is both meaningful in form and content for dance as art.” As Anna found the still points in different locales, Stubblefield photographed her, while Andy Abrahams Wilson documented their creative process in the film Returning Home.
Photo: Eeo Stubblefield
Carry Me Home (1990)
Seven months of weekly workshops with Anna led to this performance by a group of men about their experience of living with HIV/AIDS. A major inspiration for the piece came from one participant’s decision to leave the group, in order to spend his final days at home. The fears and other feelings this stirred up fueled the performance. The emotionally charged process of creating the piece is documented in the film Positive Motion: Challenging AIDS through Dance and Ritual.
Photo: Paul Fusco
Circle the Earth: Dancing with Life on the Line (1989, 1991)
At a time when those living with HIV/AIDS were shunned, Anna led a community workshop for 100 people, including men and women facing the disease as well as caregivers, culminating in a performance before 1,000 witnesses. Building on Anna’s own experience of healing from cancer, the process aimed to strengthen participants physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Different scores focused on fostering community, confronting fears and anger, building trust, and facilitating change. The dance’s powerful authenticity was evident in the performance when individuals with AIDS ran forward shouting “I want to live!” Witnesses were asked to don masks as performers battled their “monsters” and a line of “warriors” supported them in their struggle, providing comfort when needed. At the end one participant commented, “The performance is not about beautiful dancing, although there is some of that; it is about real people opening their hearts and reaching out for community.”
Planetary Dance (1981–)
Originally created in response to the local community’s wish to reclaim Mount Tamalpais from the threat of a serial killer, this participatory ritual has evolved into a worldwide dance for peace among peoples and peace with the Earth. It is open to people of all ages and abilities. Each year a special theme is chosen, highlighting a community concern. Moving to the musicians’ steady beat, participants run or walk in concentric circles, creating a moving mandala. Every step becomes a call for peace. “When enough people move together in a common pulse with a common purpose,” Anna says, “an amazing force takes over—a power that can renew, inspire, and heal.” The Planetary Dance is held yearly in the Bay Area and has also been celebrated in more than 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica.
Photo: Charlene Koonce
City Dance (1976–77)
This participatory dance, the culmination of a nine-month series of public workshops, traveled from dawn to dusk through different locations in San Francisco. “All the folks in our city … have the capacity to experience their lives as a dance,” Anna told workshop participants. Everyone was invited join in the scores at nine stopping points, publicized in local newspapers. The scores encouraged people to pay attention to their senses and the environment, interacting with the spaces and people around them. It was a day of celebration and regeneration of community through dance.
Blank Placard Dance (1970 and revivals)
At a time of multiple protests against the Vietnam War and social injustices, Anna invited people on the street to voice their concerns. A group of white-clad performers marched down city streets carrying blank placards, and taking care to keep 10 feet apart to avoid the need for a permit. When asked, “What are you protesting?” the performers inquired, “What do you want to protest?” and collected the answers. After writing the responses on the placards, they walked back, bearing the spectators’ messages. This piece has been reenacted several times, including the performance What Matters to Us in 2015 in San Francisco’s diverse Mission District, home to many colorful murals addressing cultural and sociopolitical issues.
Photo: Lawrence Halprin
Photo: Susan Landor
Ceremony of Us (1969)
A few years after the 1965 racial unrest in Los Angeles, Anna was invited to work with Studio Watts on a performance for a festival at the Mark Taper Forum. She saw this as an opportunity to explore race relations through dance. For five months she worked separately with an all-black group in Watts and an all-white group in San Francisco, doing the same scores. Then, for ten days, she brought the two groups together to develop the performance. “During those days, working and living together,” Anna later said, “they collectively created their performance around the experience of becoming one group. My role was to see what the group was most ready for and what materials turned them on, then to guide them in choreographing their own responses.” For the performance, the entering audience had to choose between two doors into the auditorium: one where all the black performers were lined up or one with all the white dancers. At the end the performers brought the audience together, inviting them to join a conga line processing to the plaza outside.
Myths (10 events, 1967–68)
Taking note of strong spectator reactions to some of her performances, Anna began exploring ways for audiences to participate, seeing her role as a guide to generating creativity. Her announcement for these 10 participatory events read: “Each evening will explore a different relationship between the audience and the performers, and between our awareness, our bodies, and our environments…. Myths are your myths. They are an experiment in mutual creation.” The 10 events were named Creation, Atonement, Trails, Totem, Maze, Dreams, Carry, Masks, Storytelling, and Ohm (referring to the sound). Central to the participants’ experiences were the different environments designed by Patric Hickey.
Photo: Casey Sonnabend
The Bath (1966–67)
Invited to perform at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, Anna was intrigued by the fountain in its courtyard and created a piece around the simple task of bathing. She and her dancers explored different ways of washing themselves, discovering what it says about “how we feel about each other.” For the audience, a familiar space was transformed, its meaning extended, by the performance of this sensual yet ordinary activity. Later, Irving Penn recorded the poetic and sculptural qualities of the dancers’ gestures in his photographs of The Bath.
Photo: Irving Penn
Photo: Paul Fusco
Parades and Changes (1965–67 and revivals)
Parades and Changes is always evolving; it is never performed in the same way. Although it includes distinct scores, which specify activities over time in space with people, these are not fixed; they simply tell people what to do, not how to do it. Certain scores may be dropped or new ones added to fit the demands of a particular performance environment or social situation. One of the best-known scores involves dressing and undressing, revealing how an ordinary task can become a dance when it is done with awareness by the performer. When the piece premiered in Sweden in 1965, this revolutionary use of nudity onstage was seen as a “ceremony of trust,” but two years later, in New York City, it led to a warrant for Anna’s arrest. For a 2013 re-creation at the Berkeley Art Museum, Anna introduced new scores in response to violent killings and the need for reconciliation—scores that evolved yet again when performed in Israel in 2014 by the Vertigo Dance Company.
Apartment 6 (1965)
Initiated by John Graham, this piece used dialogue as its primary medium, with the movement impulses growing out of the verbal exchange. It drew on the real-life relationships between the performers, who had been working together for many years. On stage, they cooked, read the newspaper, played the radio, and talked. As Anna said to Yvonne Rainer, the goal was “to simply have two hours on the stage of a real-life situation, in which you as a performer and you as a person were completely the same thing.” But is it dance? Anna explained, “It’s as much dance as anything—if you can think of dance as the rhythmic phenomena of the human being reacting to the environment.”
Photo: Warner Jepson
After seeing Anna’s Five-Legged Stool and her work with children, Luciano Berio, an important Italian composer, invited her and her company to collaborate with him on an experimental opera for the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Music. The performers emerged from both outside and within the theater, burdened by all kinds of luggage, from tires to rolled-up newspapers to a basket of tennis balls. They embarked on a journey through the space, at times making direct contact with the audience. A huge cargo net was stretched up some 40 feet into the opera house from the orchestra pit, and they began climbing up it, carrying all their belongings. Objects and performers would drop and come tumbling down the net. At one point Anna’s nine-year-old daughter, Rana, swung out on a rope from the top, soaring over the audience to screams of “Bambino.” As Anna told Yvonne Rainer, “Esposizione was a very bold use of the architectonic concept of space. It also was a continual repetition and variation of one task.”
The Flowerburger (1959)
Intrigued by Richard Brautigan’s experiments with poetry, Anna sought his permission to play with lines from three of his poems in The Galilee Hitch-Hiker, including “The Flowerburger.” Together with A.A. Leath and John Graham, she created one of the first improvised dance works with spoken words. She credits Graham, an actor, with leading her toward this use of dialogue in performance. Using chairs as props and responding to each other, the dancers might stand, sit, or fall while reciting text from Brautigan’s poems, either individually or together. Chance was an essential component of the piece, which was never performed exactly the same way.
Describing her early work, Anna told a KQED interviewer, “We broke as many barriers as we possibly could.” Instead of being limited by the traditional stage, for example, Anna explored different sites in the city and other environments. One site where she and her dancers experimented was a hangar under construction at the San Francisco Airport. Anna was intrigued by the abstract geometric quality of this “stage set.” Their improvisation there was documented in a film by William (Bill) Heick and Jacques Overhoff.
Photo: William Heick
The Branch Dance (1957)
Performed on the outdoor dance deck, this piece was an early work in relation to nature. As Simone Forti later told Anna’s biographer Janice Ross, “One of the most important tools Anna gave me was how to work from nature. She taught the process of going into the woods and observing something for a period of time, and then coming back and somehow working from those impressions…. She led us to this awareness of somatic sensations in response to perceptions outside so that the inside and outside of each of us would be working together.”
Photo: Warner Jepson
The Prophetess (1947)
This dance was based on the story of the biblical prophetess Deborah, who helped free the early Jews from an overbearing tyrant. “It was my first attempt to create a dance of who I am as a subject, my personal life story as a Jewish dancer,” Anna recalls. The dance opened with a spinning sequence, which allowed Anna to shift her consciousness and enter into a sense of “inner conviction,” from which the portrayal of Deborah’s strength arises. In 1954 Anna performed this piece on her dance deck when Martha Graham and Baroness Bethesbee Rothschild visited and was subsequently invited to perform at the first American Dance Festival, held in New York in 1955. During one festival rehearsal, Graham took Anna back to the costume room and adorned her torso with circles of silver braid, transforming the plain dress into a glittering breastplate.