Movie Trailer: Breath Made Visible

Submitted by Phillip Williams on Sun, 02/28/2010 - 19:22.

BREATH MADE VISIBLE is the first feature length film about the life and career of Anna Halprin, the American dance pioneer who has helped redefine our notion of modern art with her belief in dance's power to teach, heal, and transform at all ages of life. This cinematic portrait blends recent interviews with counterparts such as the late Merce Cunningham, archival footage, including her establishment of the first multiracial dance company in the U.S., and excerpts of current performances such as “Parades and Changes” at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, to weave a stunning, inspiring account of one of the most important cultural icons in modern dance.

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Thanks for the reminder-Breathe

  Thank you for this much needed sanity...breathe.

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I am really excited to see

I am really excited to see this much anticipated movie.  Not for the visuals that I normally indulge in, but this time for the message. The trailer was enogh to calm me down, I am guessing the movie will do this more.

Anna Halprin

There are many worlds of modern dance. In Cleveland, we are primarily exposed to the companies that live in the "show" aspect of dance. From time to time, a company is selected to perform on the touring series here that has much much more than show. Some choreographers began with the internal and their early works are stunning - they make your marrow dance. When success came knocking and encouraged them to mass produce work, they succumbed to that urge and churned out anything that would sell to the lowest common denominator. Modern dance saw ballet's popularity and yearned for that sort of acceptance. It became standard for modern dancers to have to have clean lines and balletic prowess to even enter a modern dance company - it was no longer about the breath, but about the tricks and show.

Dancing is difficult, and I am not referring to the high kicks and multiple turns. It is a daily discipline - every day begins with class, with bowing, with centering, radiating outward to complex combinations and then to traveling patterns. Hours of creating and rehearsing follow. Some engage the inner and some only focus on the outer.

When watching dance it is important to release one's body to go into the body of the movement - to allow not just the structure - the organization of bodies on the stage or the shape a body is making, but to connect more deeply with where the shape and design originates. What drives it? That's the beauty of dance. It is not what you see and hear, but how your cells respond when you allow yourself to move into the space of the dancer. Some people attend a dance concert expecting a circus and often they are handsomely rewarded. Modern dance like any other art form has a cadre of people who are seeking attention, and technical prowess and amazing tricks have become de riguer. But Anna never succumbed to that pull. Anna's cells have always been dancing and inspiring others (not just dancers) to celebrate the dance of the cell, the lymph, the sinew, the marrow, the blood, the skin.

When I was growing up in a small town ballet school and company my teachers said, we always want to send them out (of the concert hall) dancing. Indeed we did often close with something that sent little girls and even sometimes a boy or two skipping through the lobby and out into the parking lot. Even though I was struggling with the old school ways and constraints of ballet at that time (the 1960s when my own version of feminism was butting heads with balletic tradition), I learned something important from that training. It was to leave it all on the field or the stage as it were. Your dancing must be infectious, and if you leave a part of yourself in the wings, you will never connect; you will not transfer that buoyancy, that lightness and lilt to the audience. When I had the opportunity to study modern dance for the first time, I learned that I could transfer much much more if I engaged my entirety in the material. I had the good fortune to study with a teacher who had been a part of the Judson Church movement, who had taught at Henry Street and worked with Yvonne Rainer and Merce Cunningham. His teaching was quieter and more restrained than my ballet teacher's cheer-leading style, but the message was the same - those for whom you dance and with whom you dance deserve all of you, not the bit you might selfishly dole out in a particular run. If you're doing your absolute best, reaching ever deeper within yourself with each run of a dance, you and your audiences will be rewarded with new horizons, but not outward - inward - inside the body. It was not about projecting to the back row, but about melting that fourth wall of the proscenium and inviting those in the back row and all those in between to come onstage with you. You don't have to shout and this is not meant to be pretty... Whoa! That's not what my ballet teacher said, but it sure is more like life. Hey, this is actually interesting stuff!

Years later I have become jaded to a certain extent. I still can savor a juicy plie and still appreciate the work that goes into pulling off multiple turns and gymnastic tricks. But I am looking for something else when I attend a dance concert or watch dance on video. I want to engage in a dialogue with the dance, the choreographer and the way that s/he has crafted the space, the dancers on a cellular level. When it is flat and lacking humanity, I am quickly bored and annoyance quickly follows. How many times did I feel my husband's hand on my knee silently urging me to wait until the work was over to stand up and walk out - too numerous to count. I have marched right out to the box office and demanded a refund when the dancers or the work was offensive, half-assed or boring. Other times I simply leave the theater - my own dance is more engaging than giving my time to something where the dancers themselves are not convinced. And it is amazing what lengths dancers will go to to convince themselves of the importance of their performances. I can name two dancers who are onstage today in Cleveland whose performances engage me fully - they are Jenita McGowan and Amy Miller. Unfortunately some of the work they are performing doesn't measure up to their capability for expression. Sadly, Colleen Clark has not performed publicly for some time. There may be others whom I have not seen, but I often lose faith in our local companies and just can't bring myself to risk the emptiness of seeing work that does not connect. My loss, I'm sure in some cases, but the dance community here with its tiny fiefdoms has left me without much encouragement for inner growth.

Anna has led the way for scores of seekers in dance and healing. She has never wavered, never sought the limelight via tricks and gadgetry. I look forward to seeing this film in its entirety. Thanks for posting it, Phillip. It makes me think that some of the dance video I have posted here has opened a portal for others to get to know a bit more about the inside of the art form. Maybe you have been a dance watcher all along and we just never discussed that.

It's not all about modern dance either - any form or style can be readily considered in this way. If you watch Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain doing the title dance, you cannot help but be moved because he is moved, and he has put his every cell into every movement that you're watching. Does it not make you want to swing on a light pole or slap your foot at a puddle on a rainy day or skip in circles with an umbrella?

Learn more about Anna Halprin and bring you cells with you next time to go to see dance - they'll know right away if there is something with which they can engage. If you're not feelin' it, don't think you've missed out on some clue that was in an academic preparation or a program note - what you are missing is what they're not sharing. If you're not "getting it", chances are the dancers aren't either, and what they haven't embodied, they can surely not pass on.