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Anna Halprin

Experience as Dance

Janice Ross (Author), Richard Schechner (Foreword)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 464 pages
ISBN: 9780520260054
May 2009
$34.95, £27.00
Other Formats Available:
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.
Foreword by Richard Schechner

1. Why She Danced (1920–1938)
2. The Secret Garden of American Dance (1938–1942)
3. The Bauhaus and the Settlement House (1941–1945)
4. Western Spaces (1945–1955)
5. Instantaneous Experience and Beat Culture (1955–1960)
6. Urban Rituals (1961–1966)
7. Spectatorship and Embodiment (1967–1968)
8. Ceremony of Memory (1968–1971)
9. Illness as Performance (1972–1990)
10. Flesh Made Metaphor: Dances of Aging (1991–2005)

Chronology of Works, Videos, and Films by Anna Halprin
Janice Ross is Associate Professor of Drama at Stanford University and the author of Moving Lessons: Margaret H'Doubler and the Beginning of Dance in American Education. Richard Schechner is University Professor and one of the founders of the Performance Studies Department at New York University.
“Carefully researched intellectual biography.”—American Studies Journal
“A formidable biography about a singular figure in the American dance landscape which needs reading by anyone interested in modern dance development.”—
“Beautifully researched. . . with a tone of persuasive poise, Ross builds a strong case for Anna Halprin as one of the most potent if underrecognized catalysts in dance since the ‘50s.”—Dance Magazine
“Fastidiously researched. . . . A masterful job of capturing the life of Anna Halprin.”—Jewish Book World
“Superb biography . . . Rich with fascinating material.”—Metro Newspapers
“The portrait of Halprin that emerges in this remarkable study is of a restless experimenter incessantly redrawing paradigms that demonstrate the ways in which dance can go beyond the act of talking to ourselves to embrace how we relate to larger communities. >From the Jewish girl who embraced modern dance to the elderly grandmother balancing the desire for remembrance against the imminence of disappearance, we are provided with a sense of Halprin's body as both subject and object of the performative. By indicating how Halprin's practices have been inflected in the artistic journeys of Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, Joseph Chaikin and the Living Theatre of Julian Beck and Judith Molina, Ross's intelligent biography maps an approach to creation that has prioritised the sensory and the therapeutic in ways that have left their traces across the panorama of contemporary dance-theatre practices.”—Times Higher Ed Sup (Thes)
"When I learned about improvisation from Anna, it was like receiving the other half of the hemisphere. Without improvisation I would not have developed the work that I'm doing."—Trisha Brown

"Anna Halprin—who, with her husband, the architect Lawrence Halprin, is considered to be the wellspring of what we call postmodern dance—has spent most of her long life shattering rules, conventions, expectations, and long-cherished ideals like so many porcelain teacups. . . . In this new cultural history and intellectual biography, Janice Ross has unscrolled a story—with her subject's full collaboration—that continuously reveals and surprises. It is a groundbreaking achievement in dance scholarship, commensurate with the work of Sally Banes, the scholar of postmodern dance to whom this book is affectionately dedicated."—Mindy Aloff, author of Dance Anecdotes

"This book is an eye-opener. It is fascinating to learn about the different creative periods in Anna Halprin's life, from her involvement with Jewish identity and culture, dance education, and Bauhaus emigrés in the thirties and forties to her relationship with the Beat poets in San Francisco, her influential summer workshops, and her exploration of ritual and performance from the fifties to the present."—Mark Franko, author of Excursion for Miracles: Paul Sanasardo, Donya Feuer and Studio for Dance (1955-1964)

"Janice Ross has done a masterful job of capturing the life, work, and impact of the little midwestern woman whose influence shaped the dance revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, and whose greatest accomplishment may have been 'finding dance culture where no one else had looked.' Ross illuminates the West Coast roots of postmodernism, and outlines Halprin's accomplishments as a healer, which are still accruing after more than sixty years."—Elizabeth Zimmer, dance critic and editor

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