I had heard about Anna Halprin from my ex-husband, Henry. In his younger days he considered joining her dance troupe, leaping and cavorting on the California shore. That was in the 60s, before I knew him.
On Sunday I told the now 90-year-old iconic dancer about Henry. I couldn’t help myself. I don’t think she remembered him but she was gracious. I had just finished viewing “Breath Made Visible: Revolution in Dance,” a documentary spanning decades of her lifelong love affair with movement.
Her approach to dance was solely her own. Halprin recalled a stint in New York City as a young woman wanting to try the latest in modern dance, but the uniformity of style was not her thing. She noticed that everyone in Martha Graham’s company looked like Graham.Why wouldn’t they want to look like themselves?
“I will not bow down to a golden image,” Halprin said to herself and went west with her husband, Larry. That was in the 1960s. The next time she performed in NYC was in 2002, when she was 82.
I could see the little girl in her face as she bopped around the stage wearing sneakers on her feet, not telling, but energizing her life story. I could do that, I thought to myself, intrigued.
“When I’m 100,” she said, “I’ll dance the essence of things and when I’m 110, I’ll dance the way things really are.” Halprin explained that when she was 40, “I danced for social justice and peace.” There she was with a huge Afro hairdo, rolling around on the floor attempting to break down barriers between black and white. Raw emotion was the only choreographer.
One of her two daughters admitted that it was hard growing up with a completely different set of rules for art and life. I imagine there was a lot of free-spirited sexuality among the grown-up dancers — and the Halprin daughters still had to do their homework.
Halprin is a cancer survivor. “Before I had cancer,” she said, “I lived for art. After I had cancer [I used] my art for my life.”
Watching the film, as Halprin spoke of “feeling a sense of reverence for my beautiful old body,” I began to feel proud of mine. Watching her, I pledged to move mine more consciously, and with the ultimate kindness.
After watching “Breath Made Visible” I wanted to dance.