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Halprin takes Paris: a full-dress improvisation whetted the appetite.

THIRTY-NINE years after she first performed in Europe, surprising audiences with dances ritualizing everyday behavior, Anna Halprin debuted in Paris last September as the opening dance event of the Festival d'Automne. Halprin, 85, and a group of eight dancers performed at the Centre Pompidou in a spectacle vivant, a local designation that captured the spare yet lushly ceremonial quality' of her Parades and Changes (1965) and Intensive Care, Reflections on Death and Dying (2000).

In extensive advance coverage, Halprin was heralded as a force parallel to Merce Cunningham in initiating postmodern dance. Every performance was sold out and hopeful ticket buyers clustered at the entrance to the theater. Unknown to Pompidou authorities, Halprin and her dancers offered a free, hour-long outdoor improvisation nightly in the nearby Place Igor Stravinsky. Dressed in their Parades and Changes unisex suits with black bowler hats and umbrellas, the dancers turned their nightly trip from the hotel to the theater into a processional echoing the irreverent whimsy of the animated sculptures of Niki de St. Phalle and Jean Tinguely in the square's fountain. Inside, the dancers again bridged the proscenium frame, greeting audience members on the aisles as they walked to their seats.

The program ranged from vintage to contemporary Halprin, beginning with the legendary dressing and undressing and paper-tearing sections of Parades and Changes, choreography that, at its first Hunter College performance in 1967, effectively inaugurated full nudity on the American dance stage. Supported by Morton Subotnick, composer of the original Parades and Changes score, and musician Miguel Frasconi, and stunningly lit by Jim Cave, the eight dancers undressed three times. They removed their suits and white shirts with a focused vet distanced air. Over the 40 minutes it took them to peel off and neatly stack their clothes, dress, walk to another point on stage, and repeat the process twice, the audience's attention moved from fascination to tedium and back to delight.

The familiar morphed into the extraordinary, and the beauty of a muscled back twisting to grab a shirt sleeve, or a foot curving gently to shed a sock, suggested the compelling virtuosity of the functional. The third time the dancers shed their clothes, they remained naked, enveloping themselves in massive panels of brown paper that they slowly began to tear. Eventually the sound and the glimpses of the red-lit paper cascading and ripping amidst falling and rising bodies suggested a bonfire of humanity.

Intensive Care is Halprin's rumination on mortality. The work played out more literally, as Halprin, G. Hoffman Soto, David Greenaway, and Lakshmi Aysola, shrouded in white medical gowns and seated on roiling armless chairs, enacted their own terrifying death. The choreographer provided the frame, but the performers shaped their own improvisatory details. Halprin shows us how the body of defiant youthfulness and prowess that marked Parades and Changes gives way to the collapsed and weakened near-corpse of old age, riddled with the anxiety of what lies ahead. Halprin's nude body was barely covered by her gaping hospital gown as she swung her arms vacantly against her chest and mouthed silent cries. Responding to a standing ovation, Halprin's appearance reminded us how the history of dancing bodies in the 20th century is also a history of the body.
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Author:Ross, Janice
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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