This meticulously written biography opens in an Orthodox synagogue where the very young Anna, then known as Ann, sits, hidden behind a raised section with the other females behind a high partition. Anna, unlike these women, who are passive and uninvolved — is watching intently the moving bodies of the men below, the swaying, the bending of the knees, the dance movements as the boys follow in serpentine lines. These early images were to be of lasting impact for Anna, brief as they were, in an immigrant family in 1930’s Chicago, where blending and “fitting in” was to dictate the rapid denuding of religious practices for her family, as it did for so many immigrant families. This was the Anna, who at five began to feel her way into the world of dance, which was to become her life. Fast forward to 2003 and the film “Returning Home,” where we see an eighty-year-old Anna naked, settling into the earth, her whole body drenched in mud. Her voice speaks the sentence that tells us how she has so seamlessly woven her life with what she believes: “We’ve been alienated from the natural world. We need to find a way to reenter.” Indeed, her philosophy is to be found in how she integrated space, art, ritual, play, and healing into the world of dance, which she expanded beyond the world of professional dancers to include her interest in her Jewish identity, the physically and mentally ill, the aged, and the very ordinary. Her major contribution to the world of dance would become known as “postmodern dance.”
Ross’ fastidiously researched biography is organized into ten chronologically presented chapters which span the many varied periods of Halprin’s productive life, and contain such intriguing titles as ‘The Secret Garden of American Dance,” “Western Spaces,” “Ceremony of Memory,” and “Choreographing Disappearance.” The biographer’s credentials include a doctorate in Margaret D’Houbler, Anna Halprin’s mentor at the University of Wisconsin. Ross is currently an associate professor at University of Stanford and has to her credit an additional two published books on dance. She has done a masterful job of capturing the life of Anna Halprin, who incidentally continues to work as a dancer, choreographer, and healer, even as she moves up into her mid-eighties.