Journey in Sensuality: Anna Halprin and Rodin
JOURNEY IN SENSUALITY: ANNA HALPRIN & RODIN, documentary, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles
The great challenge for a sculptor is how to turn a piece of marble into a “living” shape. The challenge for choreographer Anna Halprin, who was inspired by the statues she saw in the gardens at the Musée Rodin in Paris, was how to find the essence of one moment — the moment a statue depicts — using dancers. The documentary Journey in Sensuality:
Anna Halprin & Rodin follows Halprin’s explorations. Halprin, a pioneer of experimental dance, is ninety-five, still teaching, and, at the time of the filming, performing. New York City has always been America’s dance hub, but Halprin, early on, settled in San Francisco (with her landscape architect husband Lawrence Halprin) where her interests in nature-based expression, improvisation, and politics, coalesced during the ’ 60s. While other choreographers create their works in studios, Halprin, who lives on a redwood-covered hillside in Marin County, prefers to be outdoors in nature. Sea Ranch, a coastal community near Mendocino, serves as the setting for much of the film, where a group of her dancers met to spend a week developing work based on the Rodin statues.
Halprin is seen talking with the group early in the film, going through a book and pointing out which Rodin pieces spoke to her. In itself, creating a dance based on another artwork is not particularly original. What is fascinating is Halprin’s approach. She is shown discussing her theories — like the “red spot” deep in the pelvis from which all movement originates — and then her dancers are seen rolling around in the sand at the beach, illustrating them. Many scenes feature dancer improvisations with single figures being pelted in the waves, perched on rocks, or wrapped in ropes of seaweed. Often naked, the dancers are adept at this slow-motion technique in which emotion rules thought and sensation creates image. Cinematography by Adam Teichman, direction by Ruedi Gerber, and a sensitive musical score by Fred Frith combine to create a meditative mood. When a shot of a dancer reaching out toward the sea is transposed with the sculpture that inspires the movement, it makes you realize how carelessly we watch things, how little we usually see.
Halprin’s gift to the art of dance is her process, her “scores,” which lead dancers through a journey that leaves much of the discovery to them. The dances themselves, in a theatrical context, might seem too static, not interesting kinesthetically. For Halprin, however, the task of animating sculptures seems a perfect fit with her way of thinking, and her dancers’ way of moving. The film is a tribute to an original choreographic mind as well as to the genius of Rodin.
The thinker: Anna Halprin