On the phone from a retreat house in northern California, Anna Halprin tries to recall the last time she set foot in Manhattan. If memory serves, it was when she staged Parades and Changes at Hunter College in 1965. Daring for its time, the piece was a scored improvisation in which the dancers shed their clothes.
Halprin, 78, returns to the naked city this week for a residency at the 92nd Street Y. Her work prefigured several waves of dance innovation, from Trisha Brown’s alfresco stunts to Liz Lerman’s community projects, Ann Carlson’s anthropological studies, and the survival workshops Bill T. Jones led for Still/Here. She won the American Dance Festival’s lifetime achievement award in 1997, but worries about how she’ll go over in Gotham after 40 holistic years in the Bay Area.
Sunday she leads a workshop in her “Life/Art Approach,” exercises to spark creativity. That night she performs Grandfather Dance, a solo on family, memory, and culture. Monday she screens videos of her work and leads a workshop for people with life-threatening illnesses, their families, and their caretakers. Called “Dance as a Healing Art,” it’s based on her recovery from colon cancer in the 1970s.
“I make a distinction between curing and healing. After my operation I was cured, but I wasn’t healed.” What saved her was finding a way to convert feelings into images and then movement, a process de scribed in her 1995 book, Moving Toward Life: Five Decades of Transformational Dance. She teaches the process as a way not only to cope with illness, but also to bridge racial and class divisions and harmonize with the environment. “I’m curious to see whether East Coast artists will snicker about our touchy-feely culture or share my interest in bringing these modalities together.” She says her visit is a rejoinder to Arlene Croce’s critique of Still/Here (a piece Croce declined to see) as “victim art.” “I challenge that. It’s time for these elitist divisions between dance as an art and dance as healing to be erased.”