Breath Made Visible (DVD)

Reviewed by Robert McWilliams, Certified Advanced Rolfer?,Rolf Movement® Practitioner
Pages: 36
Year: 2011
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 39 – Nº 2

Volume: 39
Reviewed by Robert McWilliams, Certified Advanced Rolfer?,Rolf Movement® Practitioner

Reviewed by Robert McWilliams, Certified Advanced Rolfer™,

Rolf Movement® Practitioner

San Rafael-based modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin is an important dance artist and seminal figure in movement therapy, often mentioned in the same conversation along with Emilie Conrad and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. (These three copresented the Soma Fest in Santa Monica in September of this year.) Her ability to elicit client movement, expression, and somatic response – and the creativity she has shown over decades of work in mixing elements of touch, drawing, and ritual – are very inspiring to me as a manual and movement therapist. I think that any Rolfer interested in movement work, or even in wanting to get a broader perspective on the therapeutic potentials in movement work, would love being more familiar with her work and life’s journey.

<i>Breath Made Visible</i> Is an eighty-minute documentary on Halprin’s life and work by Swiss filmmaker Ruedi Gerber. Dance on video is, for me, mostly about what ‘gets lost in the translation,’ like poetry in another language. In contrast, <i>Breath Made Visible</i> is beautiful, a nicely edited effort, mingling rare historic footage and contemporary material. Previous DVDs, <i>Returning Home</i> and <i>Embracing the Earth: Dances with Nature</i>,1 showed us what she can do in this medium, and I highly recommend them. I suspect her life-long devotion to collaborative processes (notable in her RSVP Cycles,2 evolved with famous architect and husband Lawrence Halprin3), has a lot to do with that.

Halprin’s diverse career, which has spanned the field of dance since the late 1930s. In the 1950s, she realized she felt stymied by the drift towards conformity in modern dance (exemplified by Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Jose Limon) at that time: “Something inside me started going dead . . . and I knew my career as a modern dancer had just died.”4 Her sense of the personal, in movement, was very often pushed out to embrace the political. She is known for mass choreographed demonstrations against the Vietnam War in downtown San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


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Halprin founded the groundbreaking San Francisco Dancer’s Workshop in 1955 and the Tamalpa Institute in 1978 with her daughter Daria Halprin. Through her entre career we see her creating group events, like her global happening called “Earth Run,” that use ritual and movement as powerful forces for positive change in the world. Though we associate these with the very loosely put-together “Happenings” that were prevalent then, her works were clear examples of very disciplined, structured improvisations.

We also learn in the DVD how in the early 1970s, Halprin met personal tragedy in the form of cancer. Interestingly for somatic practitioners, it was during a private practice of working with drawing and moving5 that she got a strong intuition that she had a health problem, which turned out to be a pelvic cancer. Through focusing her feelings in art and movement, she feels that she was able to arrest the malignancy. Her discovery: it is necessary to express the dark side, to use its safely expressed power to help the healing process.

Watching this – and other healing ritual pieces in the DVD – is difficult, aweinspiring and powerful. The main message we are left with: reverence for the body, and especially the aging body. There are stunning video excerpts of her dancing nude or scantily clad, and completely at peace, really transcendently graceful and evocative of the spirit power in the flesh. She treads a line near exposing something ‘too personal’ but does not cross it, nor does she aggrandize or wallow. It is simply a seldom-seen level of authenticity, brought forwards with courage, and the unfailing discipline and no-nonsense probity of the lifelong artist.

The trailer can be viewed at www., where there are also links to purchase the DVD in the U.S., Switzerland, Germany, and Austria for home use. For educational/institutional use, it can be purchased from <a href=’’ target=’_blank’></a>.





  1. More Anna Halprin DVDs: Returning Home (2003) by Andy Abrahams Wilson , a 45-minute dance documentary in which eighty-something Halprin uses movement as a means of connecting the individual to nature, and art to real life; and Embracing The Earth: Dances With Nature (1995) also by Andy Abrahams Wilson , a twenty-threeminute film that shows dancers … moving with the shapes, rhythms, and textures of nature. (Info summarized from <a href=’’ target=’_blank’></a>.
  2. For more info on these ideas and more on her “Life Art Process,” see Halprin’s Moving Towards Life (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1995).
  3. Lawrence Halprin was the architect for the Levi Plaza Fountains in San Francisco and the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C. He exemplified an investigation in architecture of the links between space, form, and human movement.
  4. Taken from Jack Anderson’s Art Without Boundaries: The World of Modern Dance, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997, pg. 214.
  5. She said during a workshop that I attended in 1997 that she developed this process in collaboration with Fritz Perls at Esalen.

Breath Made Visible (DVD)[:]

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