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3 of Postmodern Choreographer Anna Halprin's Most Iconic Works

Halprin in her work The Prophetess (1947), about Deborah, the only female judge in the Bible. Halprin's Jewish heritage guided her morality and, early on, her choreography. Photo by Ernest Braun, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In both Anna Halprin's workshops and choreographic ventures, the postmodern choreographer used improv-based exercises that brought dancers' own individual movement impulses to their attention. Halprin made use of the environment surrounding her home, having dancers hike and tumble in nature. Now 98, she still teaches from her home in Marin County.

Here are three of Halprin's most iconic works.


Parades and Changes (1965)

In her most famous work, dancers perform pedestrian actions, such as walking, with heightened awareness in a ritualistic manner. Most notably, dancers undress and redress slowly—a choreographic choice that led to a warrant for Halprin's arrest when the piece premiered in NYC. Over the years, Parades and Changes has been set and reset many times to suit different performance venues and bring awareness to a variety of social and political issues.

Planetary Dance (1981)

Open to people of all ages and abilities, Halprin's Planetary Dance has been performed annually for more than 35 years in outdoor spaces around the world—most famously at Mount Tamalpais. It was created to promote peace and harmony between people and the earth. In each reiteration, the community that participates in the work chooses a theme that reflects a local concern. Dancers walk or run in concentric circles to represent a mandala in motion.

Intensive Care: Reflections on Death and Dying (2000)

After years of using movement as a method of healing, and directly following her husband's monthlong hospitalization, Halprin created this piece as a choreographic exploration on the theme of death. In heartbreaking imagery, elderly dancers dressed in white hospital gowns slowly progress forward before collapsing into the arms of younger dancers. In another section, they roll and spin on swivel chairs looking lost and grabbing for one another.

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As we wade through a global pandemic that has threatened the financial livelihood of live performance, dancers and dance educators are faced with questions of sustainability.

How do we sustain ourselves if we cannot make money while performing? What foods are healthy for our bodies and fit within a tight unemployment budget? How do we tend to the mental, emotional and spiritual scars of the pandemic when we return to rehearsal and the stage?

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Cynthia Oliver in her office. Photo by Natalie Fiol

When it comes to Cynthia Oliver's classes, you always bring your A game. (As her student for the last two and a half years in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I feel uniquely equipped to make this statement.) You never skip the reading she assigns; you turn in not your first draft but your third or fourth for her end-of-semester research paper; and you always do the final combination of her technique class full-out, even if you're exhausted.

Oliver's arrival at UIUC 20 years ago jolted new life into the dance department. "It may seem odd to think of this now, but the whole concept of an artist-scholar was new when she first arrived," says Sara Hook, who also joined the UIUC dance faculty in 2000. "You were either a technique teacher or a theory/history teacher. Cynthia's had to very patiently educate all of us about the nature of her work, and I think that has increased our passion for the kind of excavation she brings to her research."

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Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

Since 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have celebrated the living legends of our field—from Martha Graham to Misty Copeland to Alvin Ailey to Gene Kelly.

This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

The Dance Magazine Awards aren't just a celebration of the people who shape the dance field—they're a unique educational opportunity and a chance for dancers to see their idols up close.

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