Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
BREATH MADE VISIBLE
She might not have the name recognition of such luminaries as Merce Cunningham or George Balanchine, but Anna Halprin has been colossally important to modern dance as those masters. That’s according to Breath Made Visible, an engrossing documentary by Ruedi Gerber about the choreographer who turns 90 this year.
In a fleet 80 minutes, Gerber chronicles the storied if obscure career of this innovative trailblazer, beginning with her extraordinary longevity: the film begins with footage that shows a youthful-looking but 80-ish Halprin dancing with still-immaculate, flowing movement. It’s simply stunning.
Breath Made Visible consists of Halprin discussing her life and art (the two are always intertwined. Eye-opening archival footage of her many groundbreaking works are interspersed, along with interviews with husband Larry Halprin—the landscape architect best known for his expansive FDR memorial in Washington, D.C., who died this past October—daughters Daria and Rana, and even Cunningham, filmed before his death last summer.
The resulting portrait of this inspired artist makes one wonder why she hasn’t been in the public consciousness as much as icons Balanchine, Cunningham, and even Twyla Tharp. There are involving episodes concerning the San Francisco Dancers Workshop, which she formed in 1955, and how their scandalous use of nudity brought them acclaim and controversy—including, famously, a promise that if they danced bare on a New York stage in 1967, they would be arrested. (Warrants were issued after the troupe had left the city.)
Halprin was also invited to Los Angeles following the Watts riots of 1965 to explore the possibility of commenting on the country’s racial divide through dance. She formed America’s first interracial dance company in a time when whites and blacks rarely worked together in such an intimate space and within such close proximity. The resulting project was colored by undeniable racial tensions among the dancers.
Unsurprisingly, Breath Made Visible is drenched in mortality: Halprin, a survivor of colon cancer, remains a vital creator of seminal dances, like recent works Intensive Care (2004) and Parades and Changes (a triumph at Paris’s Pompidou Center in 2006). Halprin has continually put her life experiences in her art, and has worked with AIDS patients and senior citizens, using dance as an important part of the healing process, whether physical or psychological.
Gerber shows off Halprin’s undiminished energy throughout the film: even in a throwaway shot, like the one showing her on the porch sweeping with a broom. The form of her movements, even in those few moments, underscore how much dance is fused with her everyday life. The film also gains poignancy through the appearances of a colleague like Cunningham and, most notably, Halprin’s husband as we witness a loving relationship and artistic partnership.
“I’ve always said that
dance is the breath made visible,” Halprin says, by way of explaining
the film’s title. “Once you stop breathing and the breath is no longer
visible, you stop moving.” Making her constant battles with mortality
into transcendent artistic statements, Anna Halprin has demonstrated
throughout her seven decade-long career that she has taken her own
definition of dance to heart. Kevin Filipski