Editor's note

To celebrate the release of “Mouvements de Vie1” with its author Anna Halprin, Contredanse invited her to give a two-day workshop in Paris in January 2010. Peter Hulton2 filmed the workshop which now forms the basis of this publication. Florence Corin and Baptiste Andrien, publishing directors at Contredanse, recall together the path that led to the making of this publication.

Florence: We discovered Anna Halprin’s teaching in two different ways. You took part in the Paris workshop whereas I experienced it afterwards through the medium of video. The first time I watched Peter Hulton’s films I was struck by the way Anna Halprin provides a framework for the participants’ experience through movement, drawing and voice, while at the same time composing with the musician and paying attention to form and timing. All these dimensions are visible, tangible and part of what I feel is specific to Anna Halprin’s approach; namely, to consider the overall workshop as a work of art, where everyone has the opportunity to address a personal question. My impression of the Paris workshop was of a time for exploration, transmission and aesthetic experience.

Baptiste: I also remember our surprise as we realized how in two days of workshop Anna Halprin had in fact shared more than sixty years of practice and thinking about what dance can be. The weekend was a chance to continue questioning and keep up to date. Anna Halprin addressed us, as individuals and as a group, asking: what motivates your dance? What are your resources? What meaning does your dance have for you? What links does your dance have with others, with the environment, the context? What dance can emerge collectively? Who does it speak to? This seemed to us a simple and direct way of examining what a dance is. In fact, we asked ourselves similar questions when thinking about the nature of this publication. Our initial perspective was that this two-day workshop represented a moment in the history of Anna Halprin, informed by all of her many experiences. We made a diagram to present this first idea of a structure.

Note de l'éditeur

F. Like an hourglass. The emphasis is on the passage of time, on the process more than on the result. This is made possible with a webapp. At the time of this drawing, our knowledge of Anna Halprin’s work was mainly based on the French translation of her book “Moving Toward Life3” and “The RSVP Cycles4”, a book written by her husband, Lawrence Halprin, about creative processes in the human environment. The videos of the Paris workshop showed us how Anna Halprin’s work is present in her body and in the way she shares the work in space at this particular time in her history. So we went to see her to learn more about the historical context of her teaching and ask about certain notions that had caught our attention.

B. On our return to Brussels, we looked in more detail at the workshop to identify more precisely what was involved in the various activities, both in terms of content and in the progression from one to the next. When I think now of the Paris workshop, which I took part in, I remember the feeling of not knowing at the time where Anna Halprin was taking us and of sensing if I wanted to go there. In general, whether faced with a workshop or a book or any other situation, there is this very visceral feeling: do I, my body and my imagination, want to taste this new experience? When I feel the desire to dive intoa proposal, my different senses organize themselves around my attention. I tune myself to the language used by the teacher, feeling the experience that their words and actions carry. I am like a blind man who does not yet have a representation of the space he is in but discovers and builds it as he explores.

F. That’s why we asked Julie Numrich, who was a pupil and assistant of Anna Halprin for many years, to work with us on the Paris workshop. Going through the RSVP Cycles together we gained insight into the workshop. Her understanding and experience helped us to write down the score, to reveal the general outline as well as the specific intentions underlying each activity.

B. The process of putting the structure of the workshop down on paper allowed us to step back and have another object in front of us. Taking notes is a way of translating experience. It gives me the impression, or the illusion, of focusing my understanding of the moment, of fixing a memory of my state of attention so that I can return to it later and maybe find inspiration for new experiences. In putting together different notes, an overall picture is created, like in this webapp. But at what moment does this personal, subjective activity become of interest to others?

F. Cette question me fait penser à la particularité des démarches d’Anna Halprin et de son mari. De leur expérience artistique et de leur vie, ils n’ont cessé d’extraire les processus en jeu et de leur donner forme à travers des méthodes et outils (« feuilles de route ») qu’ils peuvent ensuite partager avec d’autres. Anna Halprin le dit d’ailleurs dans l’atelier de Paris : « les choses n’existent qu’à partir du moment où on leur donne un nom ». Cette activité de symbolisation est récurrente dans leur travail et semble leur avoir permis de développer un langage pour communiquer, car le processus de création collective est bien au centre de leurs préoccupations.

F. That question makes me think of how special Anna Halprin and her husband’s work is. They’ve never stopped questioning the processes at play in their lives and in their artistic experience. They’ve taken these processes and given them form through methods and tools (“Roadmaps”) that can then be shared with others. Anna Halprin says in the Paris workshop: “things exist only when you give them a name.” We see this activity of symbolization again and again in their work and it seems to have allowed them to develop a language. Communicating with others is essential for the process of collective creation which is truly at the heart of their concerns.

B. So Anna Halprin has been present throughout the entire process of creating this webapp. Her extensive feedback has helped us understand her intentions and her approach to dance. This is precisely what we wanted to focus on: what does the word dance mean for her? In her own way, through her teaching, dancing and choreography, she has helped broaden the definition of what dance is. In general, through our social and artistic behaviour, we show each other the freedom we allow ourselves in relation to generally accepted codes and norms. You, me, Anna Halprin, the user of this webapp, we all participate in defining culture. And we can all measure, each in our own way, both how far we feel from that culture and how much it colours us whether we like it or not.

F. In that sense, Anna Halprin’s experience with the history of dance culture is revealing: she has been excluded by some and understood by others. She has contributed to opening up the boundaries of what is considered dance. She has introduced new ideas and ways of working. I also remember the force with which she greeted us on our second visit when she told us: "I have a view on dance." In five minutes she summed up her vision of dance as a science, a philosophy and an art.

B. We listened to her and began to imagine new ways to pass on what she is timewas saying. It was at th that she gave us access to all her archives. We suddenly found ourselves with a huge amount of material that could accompany the Paris workshop. The project took on a new direction: a study of the “Anna Halprin Workshop” as a major place where art and life meet.

F.In the process of sorting these documents and selecting what interested us, we introduced the use of keywords.At first this was necessary in order to have a clear view of what we had, but progressively these keywords also made us travel through the material in another way.These keywords can be found on the webapp as an index mouth that allows the user to follow a particular theme across different types of content as well as chronologically.

B. Like when you read a book from the index and just follow your nose. Using the links between keywords is a basic way to create meaning through associations. The user is faced with a jigsaw puzzle that he can put together as he wishes. The subjectivity of the user inevitably meets our subjectivity even if we have tried to stay as close as possible to Anna Halprin in the way we have organized and named the documents.

F. In addition to the index, we then added three axes of navigation that cover the experience of the Paris workshop mouth, important moments in Anna Halprin’s life and artistic practice mouthand “roadmaps”mouth Through these, the user will be able to appreciate the interconnectedness of Anna Halprin’s life and her dance practice: how and why Anna Halprin developed the “roadmaps” from experiences in her life and how she shares these tools practically in the context of the Paris workshop.

B. I remember our long discussions about how the users would experience the webapp. How could we keep their experience alive? When we take part in a workshop, experience is felt through all the senses. Video is a radical change of medium and of space. Here it is mostly our eyes, our ears, our fingers and our imagination that are stimulated. This sets up a particular coordination of our attention.

F. Yes, but maybe this interactivity is an intermediate form in relation to studio practice, and the perception involved not any less dynamic. By the choices the user makes, his perception is stimulated and he can incorporate images or resonate with them. We travel on different levels of consciousness, as Anna Halprin suggests: our experience can be mental, physical or emotional. Our relationship to space can also be in movement. Anna Halprin proposes to start from the body and then to invest our lives, others and the planet. In this way, the experience can extend beyond the webapp.

B. Through this project, we have developed a form of archiving that seeks to document an artist’s teaching. Almost without realizing it, we began to use Anna Halprin’s words and to see ourselves mirrored in some of her processes. This allowed us to develop a common language, between ourselves and with Anna Halprin, but I realize now that above all it was a strategy for dealing with an experience that was not at first our own. We felt how the material touched us, spoke to us, awoke our imagination, how it moved us. We offer a similar experience here to the user: create an experience that makes sense for you. A dance in itself.

  • 1 “Mouvements de Vie”  by Anna Halprin translated by Elise Argaud and Denise Luccioni, Contredanse Editions, Brussels, 2009
  • 2  Peter Hulton is a documentary film-maker and writer, responsible for Theatre Papers (publishing Anna Halprin’s writings in the UK in 1978) and Arts Archives - an international digital moving image resource for performance research initiated by the Council of Europe.
  • 3 “Moving towards Life” by Anna Halprin, Wesleyan University Press, 1995.
  • 4 In “De l'une à l'autre - Composer, apprendre et partager en mouvements” Contredanse Editions, Brussels, 2010. From the original “The RSVP Cycles” by Lawrence Halprin, Braziller, 1969.