By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
It’s hard to believe Anna Halprin is 91 years old.
A postmodern dance legend, based in Marin County, she is still performing, teaching, and creating new dances, as she has for the past seven decades.
This Thursday, she’ll be in San Diego to open the second annual Coming of Age Film Festival at MOPA (Museum of Photographic Arts) with “Breath Made Visible,” a documentary about her life and work by Swiss filmmaker Ruedi Gerber.
Halprin’s idea of dance is all-inclusive, an expression of body, mind and spirit she calls “breath made visible.” Internationally renowned, she has made a career of challenging convention and creating revolutionary new directions for dance.
“I always wanted to dance about real things, things that were real in my life,” she said. Among her real things are a deep connection to nature, a relentless search for self-knowledge, and an abiding concern for our planet’s survival.
As a teenager, she studied with Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, dancing to rebel. As a young woman, she met and married the love of her life, Lawrence Halprin, a landscape architect who became her closest collaborator. He designed and built a large deck outside their home where she could dance with her children, encouraging improvisation, and welcoming grown-up dancers, choreographers and composers to join them, folks like Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham and John Cage.
In the 1960s, she and her dancers shed their clothing, shocking audiences, sometimes ending up under arrest. In the 1970s, discovering she had cancer; she started exploring dance as a healing art. She and her daughter, Daria, founded the Tamalpa Institute, blending movement and visual arts with psychology, and for the next decade or so, she worked with AIDS patients.
In the ’90s, she began creating dance rituals to bring the world community together. By the 2000s, she was making dances that dealt with her aging body and her husband’s medical crises, including a piece called “Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying.”
Even in the worst times, her life force shone through. “Things don’t last forever,” she said. “You have no control over that. What you do have control of is how you cope with what happens. Art is one way of coping. It certainly is mine.”
To date, Halprin has created more than 150 dance-theater works, most recently “Song of Songs,” the first in a trilogy called “Remembering Lawrence,” to honor the beloved husband she lost in 2009.
On opening night of the Coming of Age festival, which offers a diverse selection of films about aging, you can meet this remarkable artist at a wine and cheese reception.
Before introducing the movie, she’ll perform a new version of “Courtesan and the Crone,” a piece she originally created in Venice in 1999.
Then, over the weekend, she’ll teach a dance workshop at Tango Del Rey, which will include her “Planetary Dance,” a dance for peace now being done in 46 countries around the world.
“When I am 110, I’ll dance the way things really are,” she says with a smile, at the end of the movie.