Tribute to Anna Halprin

by Kay Lynn

Anna Halprin died at the age of 100yrs this Spring. (1920 – 2021) The news swept through the dance world. She was a pioneer in the experimental art form known as postmodern dance. She referred to herself as a breaker of the rules of modern dance.

She explored the capabilities of her own body, and created a systematic way of moving using the kinaesthetic awareness.

She developed this very singular approach to dance and the body which has some connections with Feldenkrais and Authentic Movement. She worked with and was influenced by Fritz Perls in the 60s in Esalen.

There are recordings of her dancing at the age of 96yrs on YouTube and Vimeo, moving to the voice of Meredith Monk.

The book, Anna Halprin. Dance-Process-Form, by Gabriele Wittmann, Ursula Schorn and Roni Land describes her work and approach to dance. The DVD Breath made Visible-Revolution in Dance by Ruedi Gerber is an excellent documentary of her work including interviews with Anna (trailer of this film can be seen here:

The British Gestalt Journal in 2015, volume 24, no. 2 has an article by Ursula Schorn entitled “Anna Halprin: dance, gestalt, and art”.

The article in the same edition by Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb entitled ‘The body as vehicle’ fits well alongside Anna’s work and Gestalt in the theme of “somatisation.”

She says, ‘My concern is form in nature-like the structure of a plant, not in its outer appearance, but in its internal growth process. This orientation leads to particular attitudes. One essential attitude has to do with changeability…. Change in constant states is an essential characteristic. Such an attitude demands a rejection of formalistic, preconceived solutions found in traditional forms. This form I speak of is a spontaneous naturalistic phenomenon. Not paralleling nature, but in its manner of operation.’

Anna’s meeting with Fritz Perls influenced her work, which changed towards a less “theatrical” interest to ‘tackle barriers that were not just artistic, or about dance and the body, but psychological as well.’ Anna turned to focus upon personal process and group process which is the familiar ground of the Gestalt Psychotherapist.

It was at Esalen in the summer months that Fritz Perls taught “person-centred therapy” and attended Anna’s rehearsals for the work Apartment 6. It is here that Anna moves away from Dance and Performance and becomes focused on the “Collective Experience” and where she establishes a Dance Movement form that embraces these aims in “Movement as Ritual.” This approach also supported her political work in establishing collective creative group work, and her development of the 5 part process of healing involving self-portrait drawings and dance. This way of working created her own healing process from cancer and her setting up of healing groups for HIV sufferers, for example.

She is sadly missed. Her legacy and approach to her method of dance practice is maintained in a training programme at the Tamalpa Institute.

Kay Lynn says: ‘I have studied dance and movement and the body all my life, including Laban Studies, the Sigurd Leeder technique and Contemporary Dance in the USA and UK. I have also studied Authentic Movement. These approaches to training the body emphasise the development of the kinaesthetic sense as well as performance and is the link to Gestalt that contributes to my practice as a Gestalt therapist. It is a development of awareness of what the body is experiencing in the moment.

Only yesterday I was performing a solo piece and when asked to describe what I do, I said it is working with the kinaesthetic sense in making the movement, moment by moment. It is there and then it is gone, in a constant state of change. And that is what I do!’

UKAGP Newsletter, Summer 2021
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