Esprit de Corps

Anna Halprin: Breath Made Visible

In the pantheon of modern dance, choreographer Anna Halprin stands alongside such revolutionaries as Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham, celebrated for her dedication to the “democratization” of the art form. Her work in physical theatre, dance and expressive-arts therapy has encapsulated the non-conceptual, emotionally driven ethos of the Bay Area in the 60s ever since she co-founded the San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop with avant-garde composer John Cage and sculptor Robert Morris, among others, in 1959. Subsequently, her experiments with the human body eroded the distinction between dancers and “movers,” performers and audience, technique and feeling. Breath Made Visible, a new documentary about Halprin from Swiss actor-turned-filmmaker Ruedi Gerber, takes its title from the choreographer’s definition of dance––not an art form reserved exclusively for trained professionals, but an expression of the basic forces within us. Gerber, who studied briefly with Halprin in the early 80s, began filming her in 2002. Two years earlier, she had made a surprising return to the stage as a performer (just shy of 80 years of age), having worked predominantly as a therapist and teacher for much of the previous three decades. Gerber was entranced by her reemergence, and, recognizing that a core theme of new works such as Intensive Care (a meditation on trauma and illness) was the human desire to leave a legacy, convinced the dance icon that his film would be a lasting testimony to her practice. “I wanted Anna the artist, not Anna the healer,” he says. Gerber’s documentary is not a conventional biopic so much as a study of movement woven through one supremely kinetic and innovative individual’s life and work. “I didn’t want to describe dance, I wanted to sense it, to feel it.”

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