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Monday, June 11, 2007

Anna Halprin's Dance Day

Posted by on Mon, Jun 11, 2007 at 2:09 PM

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Sarah Lupton and Madison Owen, interns for the arts and entertainment section of the Indy, will report from the American Dance Festival on this blog. On Sunday, June 10, they attended—and participated in—Dance Day at Duke Gardens. Here are their accounts.

Sarah writes:

In the midst of the North Carolina summer heat, the 87-year-old Anna Halprin regally made her way through the crowd of shirtless backs, nose rings and long flowing skirts in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens yesterday afternoon. This eclectic group of ADF dancers and Durham residents was about to participate in a ritualistic “Planetary Dance”—a specific chant that can be performed in this particular way only once. We seated ourselves at the top of the hill to watch...

Madison writes:

Sunburned, sweaty, and tired. This is the state we expected to find ourselves in after performing in Anna Halprin’s Planetary Dances. Well, sweat was definitely involved, and in the process I unexpectedly had an eye-opening experience as well...


Sarah writes:

In the midst of the North Carolina summer heat, the 87-year-old Anna Halprin regally made her way through the crowd of shirtless backs, nose rings and long flowing skirts in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens yesterday afternoon. This eclectic group of ADF dancers and Durham residents was about to participate in a ritualistic “Planetary Dance”—a specific chant that can be performed in this particular way only once.

We seated ourselves at the top of the hill to watch as Halprin taught the group of 100 or so dancers, who were standing scattered in the field, how to root their body and breath to the Earth. As the drum beat began, she asked each dancer to find a partner. Then, to join with another partner group to make a circle of four, then to combine circles again and again until at last we couldn’t resist and had to leave our observation site and join in.

The individual, chaotic placement of the dancers at the beginning of the ritual was becoming an organized, collective whole. As we ran around the circle throwing up our arms with the beat, Halprin’s collaborator, Jamie McHugh, urgently reminded us that “Now you’re connected to all the people in your circle—keep the pulse going in your circle!”

Finally, Halprin paused us for meditation before joining all the circles into one, connected circle. She asked us to think of one person to dance for. One by one, dancers stood up and dedicated their circle run to “Christina and all people with cancer,” “My son and all fathers and sons,” “Joe and all artists!”

We were sweating and out of breath in the hot sun, yet the pulse of the circle kept us going. Until, at last, the music slowed, and we all knelt into the earth. In spite of aching calves, sweat, and exhaustion, we were smiling together with satisfaction and peace before standing up, walking away, and returning to that world of individual chaos.

Madison writes:

“Sunburned, sweaty and tired.” This is the state we expected to find ourselves in after performing in Anna Halprin’s Planetary Dances. Well, sweat was definitely involved, and in the process, I unexpectedly had an eye-opening experience as well.

The day started with Halprin and Jamie McHugh, her collaborator, recounting how Planetary Dances originated and what it evolved into. McHugh kept us entertained with his spastic movements, transmitting his excitement as he talked.

Next the participants warmed up and engaged in some breath and grounding exercises. Originally, Sarah and I planned just to watch, but when the groups of people started running around in circles and throwing up their hands in ecstasy, we decided to jump in—literally. We ran around in circles, changed directions, walked and sweated a lot.

After a brief water break, Halprin instructed us to sit back to back with a partner and reflect on someone for whom we would dedicate the dance. When it was time, we screamed to the world the name of the lucky persons for whom we were dancing. We were now engaged in the official “planetary dance.” Four circles were formed, going in different directions, dancing not only for ourselves but also the entire world. People were jumping in the middle, dancing in bursting ways to show their love for life.

Next, Halprin and McHugh conducted chants and demonstrated ways to sense the earth. During many of these chants, we felt more like observers than contributors. However, at one point a breeze brushed across our faces and it was then insight set in what a monumental experience this dance really is. Looking at the faces of every individual dancer and realizing how truly happy they were just sitting on the grass, made us understand Halprin’s vision.

At the end of the day, we were indeed sweaty, sunburned and tired, but there was also a different feeling: Appreciation.

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