"I've always said dance is the breath made visible and that covers about everything because once you stop breathing and the breath is no longer visible, you stop moving," dance legend Anna Halprin states in this exquisite and engrossing documentary about her life and work. Born into a Jewish family in Illinois, she began to dance ballet as a child but then turned to the kind of modern dance pioneered by Isadora Duncan. Halprin's Hasidic grandfather danced his prayers and has a formidable early impact on her thinking about the spiritual dimensions of this art form.
At the University of Wisconsin, she became a protégé of Margaret H'Doubler who inspired her. After dancing for a while in New York City, she fell in love with Lawrence Haprin, a landscape architect, and they settled down in Marin County, California. This beautiful milieu has served her well over the years: "My greatest love is dancing with the natural world." The Halprins had a gigantic deck created under California redwood trees which has played a major role in her ongoing experiments with dance, always pushing the limits of what is possible.
Through fascinating archival footage of Halprin's extraordinary career, we are treated to bits and pieces from her performance at the Joyce Theatre at the age of 80; reminiscences from two members of the world famous San Francisco Dancers Workshop and their controversial "Parades and Changes," where members of the group disrobed and appear naked on the stage; her establishment of the first multiracial dance company in the United States; a brief account of her battles with cancer; her pioneering work with using dance as a healing tool with cancer and AIDS patients; and her creation of "Seniors Rocking," a dance piece involving people between the ages of 65 and 100 performing in rocking chairs; her "Circle of Earth," a contemporary community dance ritual; and her "Intensive Care," a work revolving around the process of death and dying.
Through all of these experiments and rituals, Halprin has expressed her total dedication to the integration of art with life. And she has fulfilled her dream of making sense out of the mysteries of our bodies, community, nature, and the multiple meanings and challenges of the world in which we live.
A Statement from Anna Halprin
"I have an enduring love for dance and its power to teach, inspire, heal, and transform. I've spent a lifetime of passion and devotion probing the nature of dance and asking why it is so important as a life force. I find great excitement in sharing my deep love of dance with ordinary and diverse people. Their unique creativity inspires me to make dances that grow out of our lives. I want to integrate life and art so that as our art expands our life deepens and as our life deepens our art expands.
"As I sit on the bench overlooking my dance deck, a flood of questions arise. What next? Where am I going? What is my work now that I am eighty-seven? What do elders in other cultures do? Teach the young, heal the sick, care for the land, hold the rituals, speak with the ancestors, and maintain the family. I take all these actions, and call upon the spirits, wherever they may be, whatever that might mean, and however they may appear, to lead me further into this evolution of dance to which I have committed my life. I continue to believe in the shining potential set forth by all of this work, in its evolution from rebellion to expansion to community to healing and back again to the natural world.
"I believe if more of us could contact the natural world in a directly experiential way, this would alter the way we treat our environment, ourselves, and one another."