What a wild month May was. I unexpectedly wrote two Sunday Profiles for the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, published within a few weeks of each other. First, what was originally assigned as a shorter feature became a tale of unexpected survival through dance when the choreographer Robert Moses, on the rise after a recent commission for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, opened up. Here’s a little taste of that profile:
“Choreographer Robert Moses paces like a boxer preparing for the ring, breaking into spurts of movement that twitch and flow and transform a stocky 52-year-old body into an instrument of anxious grace.
“Get your rhythms in your weight,” he calls sternly to his two dozen students after he demonstrates the phrase, a whirlwind of rippling torso and whiplash legs. “Questions? Going once, going twice? Fine, sold.” A mordant smile cracks above his silver whiskers.
The dancers look relieved. Moses is a firm but reliable father figure to his troupe, Robert Moses’ Kin, which will present its 20th anniversary season Thursday through next Sunday at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum. He’s also a pillar of Bay Area dance who’s beginning to break out on the national scene with his work, a hybrid of ballet, modern and street-jive that vacillates between tension and tenderness.
His work reflects a richly observant and conflicted mind, forged in a North Philadelphia ghetto and impervious to compromise. Moses rarely discusses his life story. But when a visitor to his small office in the Flood Building asks, like his dances, it all comes pouring out.
“Do you want long or short?” he asks, laughing in his warm but nervous way. “We had a mom-and-pop store, but my father was dead. Heart attack, but really he drank himself to death. Store was across the street from the projects. We had chicken wire up so people wouldn’t just snatch stuff and go out. Let’s see, what else can I tell you about that?” ”
The full story is here.
Then, I had the great privilege of interviewing the dance revolutionary Anna Halprin on the occasion of her 95th birthday, and doing my best to telescope a wildly wise and innovative life:
“Fifteen years ago, choreographer Anna Halprin opened the door to her mountainside home in Kentfield, buck naked. “Just a moment!” she said impishly to a startled reporter, and slipped on a kimono.
This time around, on a recent weekday, the 94-year-old Halprin is fully dressed in a turquoise tunic and silver necklace, but her uninhibited way of being is still obvious. Relaxed from a morning regimen of lap-swimming and hula hoops, she takes a seat overlooking the famous “dance deck” at her Marin County home, where in the ’50s and ’60s she essentially invented postmodern dance.
“Martha Graham used to say it takes 10 years to make a dancer,” Halprin says and then giggles. “I said, ‘No, I think it takes more like 10 seconds.’”
Of course, she quickly qualifies, a lot happens in that 10 seconds, a transformation of awareness that had profound implications for 20th century art. Before Halprin, American dance was cast in Graham’s regal mold, presented formally onstage, and performed by highly trained bodies that acted out the choreographer’s vision in a rarefied movement language. Halprin’s rebellion was to declare that any movement, performed with presence and intention, could be a dance, and anybody could be a dancer.
“She really was the genesis of so much postmodern dance,” says her biographer, Stanford Professor Janice Ross — though for many decades, the dance establishment in New York, a powerful world that tends to cast developments outside its sphere as “provincial,” discounted her place in dance history.
That has changed. This summer, to mark Halprin’s 95th birthday, fans and followers will host hundreds of events in 15 countries. Documentaries on Halprin will screen in Colombia and South Korea, and her works will be restaged in France and Israel. People in 46 nations, and in the Bay Area on Mount Tamalpais, will participate in her Planetary Dance on June 7. Tamalpa Institute, the training program based in Halprin’s home studio, will hold a benefit tribute to its founder on July 12, the day before her birthday.
Even the New York establishment that has so long ignored Halprin is paying its respects. Last fall, avant-garde choreographer Stephen Petronio announced that his “Bloodlines” project, which traces the lineage of 20th century experimental dance, will include works by textbook luminaries Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham — and Anna Halprin.
It’s a remarkable resurgence for an artist who, raised by Russian immigrant Jews in the Chicago suburbs of Wilmette and Winnetka, made a life of art secluded in the woods with her husband, the influential landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.”
Here’s that full story.