Anna Halprin's 'Parades and Changes' a kinetic blessing
By Lou Fancher, Correspondent, San Jose Mercury News
Three sold-out February performances of postmodern dance pioneer Anna Halprin's "Parades and Changes" bestowed a brilliant blessing on the final years of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive at its Bancroft Avenue location.
In a kinetic anti-christening not unlike hitting a ship with a champagne bottle at the end of a long voyage (instead of at the outset), the performance marked beginnings, endings and "begin-agains."
First performed at the university museum's opening in 1965, the 2013 reprisal of Halprin's collaboration with composer Morton Subotnick was a 43-year look back and a window into the future. Reflecting and projecting as the museum prepares to close and relocate in 2015, dance artists and the audience traveled away from -- and back to -- their origins.
Halprin's dance landscapes have long been inhabited by familiar, comfortable experiences like these: strolling under the protection of an umbrella, removing a necktie, linking arms with a friend, introducing oneself. On opening night, audience members lined the museum's cement ramps or sat on pillows and chairs arranged in the central atrium like too many guests at a house party.
Roving red and blue spotlights went almost unnoticed, until a tuxedoed male dancer escorted two similarly dressed female dancers to one of several boxes scattered throughout the space. Wearing black bowler hats and carrying umbrellas, they posed, while Subotnick, dressed in casual top and jeans, conducted a choir of "I remembers."
"I remember when I was sailing on a tall ship," one dancer called from amid the audience. "I remember 880 dollars and 46 cents," another said.
Soon, the 13-member cast's vocalizations looped, overlapped, or were cut short midstream by the wildly gesticulating Subotnick. Voices and solo entrances came in all forms and from every direction. Odd and beautiful, one dancer's movement resembled a berserk, animated jigsaw puzzle. Another, a discarded burger wrapper tossed by the wind. Karl Gillick arrested heartbeats by announcing himself while dangling from a slender rope, 40-feet overhead.
Postmodern dance elevated everyday tasks, like dressing and undressing, and pedestrian movements, like waking, running, and sitting. Halprin was, and remains, a grand master of the genre. Iterations of her work are unique, one-time experiences: entire sections shift, expand, contract, or adopt new expression from one performance to the next.
On opening night, after a brisk, "people in suits" parade, the performers began to undress, entering a portion of the dance that caused an uproar at various times in its history. Nudity in 2013 is no less polemic than at any other time; nor was it less intriguing. Do we look at these dancers differently, once we've seen them naked? Is it necessary and inspired, or indulgent and sensational? Are they uncomfortable? Will they touch each other?
The cacophony of individual mental storms raged: dancers and score were silent. Staring intently, as if transfixed by alien visitation, they assumed trapped-in-a-box postures, never looking at the garments they took off, then put back on. Resuming their perambulation, Subotnick provided auditory escape with Petula Clark's breezy hit, "Downtown." It was cheesy, but perfectly so.
The climax of the evening -- quieting all cerebral wrestling with a stunning, visual feast -- arrived courtesy of rolls of simple, brown paper, crisscrossing the stage. Tearing, tossing and twisting themselves amid the paper, their amber-lit bodies glowing, the dancers became a tumultuous, sensuous fire. The sound, like a raging forest fire, astounded.
It was luscious destruction, and when they gathered the paper shards to the Beach Boys crooning ("warmth of the sun ...") and huddled en masse, only one question remained: How can Halprin and Subotnick top that?
Astonishingly, the answer was a remarkable stomp dance, a viscous, exuberant celebration accompanied by Dohee Lee's fevered, remarkable drumming. A final looping, ensemble lap run -- repeated during extended applause when Halprin later took a bow -- was a fitting symbol to mark the return of a new beginning for BAM/PFA.