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Anna Halprin

Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance

Janice Ross
Foreword by Richard Schechner
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 462
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  • Book Info
    Anna Halprin
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93282-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Richard Schechner

    IN THE 2003 FILMReturning 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...

    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ONE Why She Danced 1920–1938
    (pp. 1-22)

    ONE SATURDAY MORNING in 1926, in a quiet Chicago suburb, a small girl peered through the wooden lattice that screened the women in the upstairs gallery of an old synagogue from the men below. At first she could see only a mass of black frocks and broad-brimmed black felt hats swaying subtly to the rumbling incantations. Then, as a group, the men beneath these hats, their long black side curls reaching the lapels of their coats, turned. They faced the two small narrow doors of the Ark, the cabinet that held the ornately wrapped scrolls of the Torah. Precisely on...

  6. TWO The Secret Garden of American Dance 1938–1942
    (pp. 23-48)

    NEW TRIER HIGH SCHOOL, which Ann attended, was known as one of the best public high schools in the nation. Its top graduates could expect to be admitted to any of the leading Ivy League universities. So it was with considerable disappointment and shock that Ann opened a letter in the spring of 1938, her senior year, from the one college to which she had applied, Bennington College in Vermont, and learned that she had not been accepted. Ann had been confident that her grades easily equaled those of the other applicants. What was different, she felt, was that she...

  7. THREE The Bauhaus and the Settlement House 1942–1945
    (pp. 49-69)

    LARRY’S ENROLLMENT AT HARVARD, which had initially looked like such a radical career leap, soon assumed the contours of an inevitable choice, both for him and, just as important, for Ann. From this point forward, their art, as well as their lives, became intertwined. Arriving in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1941, Larry walked into the charged center of a displaced European culture in the process of being transplanted to the United States. Although Ann remained in Madison until the following summer, finishing her degree, they were in frequent communication as Larry shared the excitement of the German design...

  8. FOUR Western Spaces 1945–1955
    (pp. 70-115)

    ANN AND LARRY HAD BEEN in San Francisco only a few months when the war in Japan ended. They were living in one of the cramped and spare Quonset huts hastily erected at the southern tip of the city, on the grounds of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, as temporary housing for military personnel, like Larry, who were out of combat on survivor’s leave but expected to return to active duty shortly.

    One of Ann’s most vivid early memories of San Francisco occurred late in the afternoon, around 4 P.M., on August 14, 1945, when word reached the West Coast that...

  9. FIVE Instantaneous Experience, Lucy, and Beat Culture 1955–1960
    (pp. 116-153)

    ONE DAY IN THE EARLY 1950s, Larry came home with a new camera he had just purchased. Called the Polaroid Land Camera, it created instant photographs, processing them inside the camera just seconds after the shutter was clicked. This 1947 invention by the scientist Edwin Land revolutionized perception and brought serious regard to swiftly composed or spontaneous images. Instant gratification could now be an art value. Art photographers like Ansel Adams lauded the Polaroid for its capacity to “free intuition,” allowing artists to take risks and experiment, as they could see results immediately.¹

    Larry had always carried a notebook with...

    (pp. None)
  11. SIX Urban Rituals 1961–1967
    (pp. 154-198)

    IN JANUARY 1961, with the inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, America celebrated an end to the cold war mentality of the 1950s and a new era of exhilaration and confidence began. Ann was in step with this shift, pushing ahead on the new path she was defining for American dance. Her critique of dance convention focused on the reframing of dance performance, grounding in the ordinary the images it created, and, most significantly, the content it put forward. She did not want to train dancers to enact a script where their bodies functioned as instruments of someone else’s grandly scaled...

  12. SEVEN From Spectator to Participant 1967–1968
    (pp. 199-243)

    ON APRIL 5, 1967, the Gray Line Bus Company initiated its two-hour “Hippie Hop” tour of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. Five days a week, the large commercial buses lumbered past the Dancers’ Workshop studio on Divisadero Street, taking gawking tourists with cameras on what was touted in the brochure as “the only foreign tour within the continental limits of the United States.” Passengers were given a “Glossary of Hippie Terms,” and on the first day a TV crew joined the riders.¹

    The sarcastic framing of daily life in this San Francisco neighborhood as a “foreign” practice not only...

    (pp. None)
  14. EIGHT Ceremony of Memory 1968–1971
    (pp. 244-299)

    ON A LATE AUTUMN DAY in 1968 Daria Halprin, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, was in the ceramics studio in Lower Sproul Plaza throwing pots when she was called to the telephone. The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni was on the phone and wanted to speak with her. Daria, sure it was a prank, discovered it was not. The director of the avant-garde filmBlow Upwanted her to take a screen test for a part in his next feature film. He had glimpsed her dancing with her mother’s San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop inRevolution,an underground...

  15. NINE Illness as Performance 1972–1991
    (pp. 300-330)

    DANCE, MORE THAN ANY OTHER art form, is weighted toward showcasing the kingdom of the well. Both those who create and those who perform dances are presumed to be healthy, the carriers of what Susan Sontag calls “the good passport.” Using the body as an art medium usually depends on physical control and stamina—signifiers of wellness. The more visible the body, as in athletes or dancers, the more developed and refined this control tends to be, conveying an impression of underlying health. The kingdom of the sick is hidden, and for certain types of illness it is a kingdom...

  16. TEN Choreographing Disappearance: Dances of Aging 1992–2006
    (pp. 331-358)

    ANNA’S LAST LIVING PARENT, her mother, Ida, died in the summer of 1992, and one and a half years later, in the winter of 1994, Anna broke her twenty-two-year absence from the stage with the premiere of her soloThe Grandfather Dance.She had continued dancing in her classes and workshops, but 1972 had been her last professional appearance on stage. Now, as she approached her mid-seventies, Anna began looking at her own aging, addressing this subject obliquely at first by invoking her late grandfather from her remembered impressions as a little girl.

    People sometimes speak of first grasping their...

    (pp. 359-362)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 363-404)
    (pp. 405-420)
    (pp. 421-430)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 431-445)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 446-446)