NAME: Halprin, Anna

13 July 1920, Winnetka, Ill.

Portrait of Anna Halprin by Rick Chapman, Bird Man Inc.

click to enlarge   

  • identification & bio
  • key contact
  • human repositories
  • video documentation
  • photographic documentation
  • movement notation
  • production materials
  • oral history
  • personal papers
  • immediate needs
  • other relevant information
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  • bibliography
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    Anna Halprin is highly regarded in the Bay Area and international dance scenes as a pioneer in combining improvisation, audience participation, environmental/street theater, and community-based performance in her work. Her focus on dance as a healing art can be dated to 1972, when she diagnosed her own cancer and was able to survive through a combination of surgery, conventional medical therapies, and unconventional visualization processes. While doing cancer work at the Creighten Institute she formed the STEPS theater program, which was adapted to meet the needs of people facing HIV infection. This work focused on a process of psycho-kinetic visualization to improve the functionality of compromised immune systems. A year later, she formed separate theater groups for men and women with AIDS, called respectively Positive Motion and Women with Wings. In 1989, more than 100 members of these groups, and friends, were featured in Circle the Earth, an annual ritual that Halprin had created a decade earlier, now reconceived in relation to HIV/AIDS. Thus Halprin is significant as the creator of arguably the most large-scale dance-theater work ever to address AIDS.

    Circle the Earth was originally a ritual for peace that grew out of Halprin's experience living at the base of Mount Tamalpais, a mountain sacred to the Miwok Indians. For the members of Positive Motion and Women with Wings, Halprin remounted the ritual with the subtitle Dancing with Life on the Line. The event was described as an intersection between dance and ritual, incorporating performers at a variety of skill levels "who combined to confront the spectre of AIDS."

    In 2001 Halprin's husband, Lawrence Halprin, became seriously ill and she created the dance video Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying to cope with her fear of his impending death. The video features three performers in addition to Halprin, one of whom is Jeff Rehg who explored his own experiences with AIDS and cancer in the creation of the work. Halprin reports in a 7 October 2003 email that Rehg died of AIDS-related causes shortly after completing the project.

    Halprin is founder of the San Francisco Dancers' workshop (1955) and co-founder, with her daughter Daria Halprin Khalighi, of the Tamalpa Institute (1978). She has received numerous awards and honors including choreographer fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Dance Guild Award, the Balasaraswati Award from the American Dance Festival, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She continues to perform and teach both locally and internationally.

    Anna Halprin

    (name and contact info, relationship to the artist and the work, assessment):

    Anna Halprin, see above.

    (location, format, condition, assessment):

    The LEGACY Oral History Project at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library (SFPALM) holds video documentation of Circle the Earth: Dancing with Life on the Line and Steps Dance Theater (both from 1989, VHS, 1/2 in.) as part of an oral history by Jeff Friedman and Penny Peak (see below). Additionally, SFPALM holds a set of videos titled Dance for Your Life that demonstrates Halprin's psycho-kinetic visualization process.

    The dance video Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying is available for purchase via Halprin (contact information above; $30.00 individuals, $60.00 institutions). Additional videos (including Dance for Your Life, listed above) are listed in a product catalogue that can be requested by contacting

    Carry Me Home (1991) is an award-winning documentary chronicling the Positive Motion Group in workshops leading to a performance at Project Artaud and is available for purchase through Open Eye Pictures ( Halprin notes in a 5 January 2004 email that the documentary "deals with the groups reaction to a fellow member who comes in one day announcing that he is going home (to die)."

    (location, format, condition, assessment):

    SFPALM maintains a photographic file for Halprin and photocopies of Circle the Earth are bound within the LEGACY Oral History Project's transcript (see below). Additionally, photographs of Halprin can be found in a file for photographer Chester Monroe Kessler.

    Photographs may also be purchased via a product catalogue (

    (location, type [including notes taken by dancers], assessment):

    In addition to movement notation kept by Halprin, the LEGACY oral history holds archival material of Circle the Earth (see below). Also, SFPALM maintains an extensive collection of Halprin's papers from 1932 that includes dance scores [GV1785.H3].

    (scores, sound recordings, set/costume designs):

    The file maintained by SFPALM includes music scores and a large audiocassette collection.

    The LEGACY Oral History Project at SFPALM holds "Circle the Earth, 1991: Dancing with Life on the Line," oral history of a movement ritual consisting of interviews with participants Jerry DeJong, Mary, Jeff Rehg, and Brian Varanzoff conducted by Jeff Friedman and Penny Peak, introduction by Anna Halprin, interview history by Jeff Friedman and Penny Peak, event timeline and historical timeline by Jeff Friedman, Jeff Friedman, editor, transcript accompanied by ten sound cassettes (five masters and five duplicates), archival material, and 2 videocassettes (STEPS Dance Theater, and Circle the Earth, 1989).

    (location of newspaper clippings, printed programs, press releases, notes, files, diaries; assessment):

    SFPALM holds an extensive file of papers for Anna Halprin that includes such traditional paper files as correspondence, clippings, printed programs, press releases, notes, and diaries, as well as oversize materials in the form of pictorial dance scores, posters, scrapbooks, videos, slides, photos, and music scores, and a large audio cassette collection. Her integration of therapeutic techniques with dance are documented in reports on the workshop process, as well as in materials on her work with cancer and AIDS patients [GV1785.H3].

    (archival assistance? storage? other?):

    Halprin seeks archival assistance with her personal collection. This collection includes photographs, video documentation, and unpublished manuscripts that document her work with people who are living with cancer and AIDS. Assistance is needed to remove this material from her personal office and to catalogue the information, making it available to the public within an appropriate, climate-controlled environment.

    Halprin's work with Steps Theatre Company is documented by Cynthia Imperatore in a manual titled Steps Theater Company: For People Challenging HIV, ARC and AIDS (1989). The manual is available at SFPALM [RM931.S9 I5].

    Dance As a Healing Art: Returning to Health Through Movement and Imagery (1990) was written by Halprin specifically for people with life threatening illness.

    According to The Davis Enterprise, Jeffrey Joseph Rehg, who performed in a number of Halprin's works, died in Berkeley, Calif. on 4 September 2001. Rehg began attending a dance therapy class taught by Halprin in order to cope with his AIDS related health problems in 1997. Journalist Barbara Boughton, writing for InSync magazine quotes Rehg as saying, "Participating in the class gave me a chance to mourn and cry, and later, to start connecting to life again." Soon after his initial involvement with Halprin's work, he began to perform in her public rituals and other artistic projects. He continued to work with Halprin until shortly before he died.

    (title, premiere date, music, production notes, performers):

    Circle the Earth: Dancing with Life on the Line (1989)—community based movement ritual directed by Halprin

    Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying (2003)—dance video created and performed by Halprin in collaboration with Lakshmi Aysola, David Greenaway and Jeff Rehg; directed and edited by Austin Forebord; music by Miguel Frasconi; voice by Carol Swann


    • Ahlgren, Calvin. 1987. "Brush With Death Didn't Hinder Her Steps." San Francisco Chronicle (12 April).
    • Boughton, Barbara. 2001. "The Healing Joy of Dance." InSync (July).
    • Cooper, Candy J. 1989. "Dancing Out the Fear: People with AIDS Learn to Fight it With Movement." San Francisco Examiner (2 April).
    • Davis Enterprise. 2001. "Jeffery Joseph Rehg" [obituary] (13 November).
    • Gere, David. 1988. "Dance From the Earth." [East Bay] Express (18 March).
    • Halprin, Anna. 2000. Dance as a Healing Art: Returning to Health Through Movement and Imagery (Mendocino, Calif.: LifeRhythm Books).
    • Halprin, Anna and Rachel Kaplan. 1995. Moving Toward Life: Five Decades of Transformational Dance (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press).
    • Ross, Janice. Forthcoming. Performance as Experience: Dance, American Culture, and Anna Halprin (Berkeley: University of California Press).
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