On Oct. 12, Kenyon students and community members wandered barefoot behind Bolton Dance Studio and scattered themselves across the lawn. The participants of the Anna Halprin Life/Art Workshop were encouraged simply to focus on their surroundings and enjoy the sensations of sight, sound and touch. This was the start of the workshop, facilitated by Elliot Mercer, a Marilyn Yarbrough dissertation fellow and visiting instructor of dance.
Mercer worked with Halprin, a famous pioneer of postmodern dance, in California for four years, gleaning self-reflective teaching techniques and researching her archives. He decided to bring her methods to Kenyon for this one-time event.
The interpersonal aspects of Halprin’s work inspire Mercer the most. “The body reflects our way of being as humans, and in Halprin’s process the body becomes a template for expressing your own personal mythology,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Art is a way to explore oneself and connect with others in direct, personal ways.”
At 97 years old, Anna Halprin is a contemporary choreographer who explores how the relationship between creative and personal expression is influenced by a multitude of art forms. Halprin’s distinct style fuses her modern dance background and original dance scores to promotes an individual’s unique aptitudes and outward expression.
Mercer led the segmented workshop, sometimes using a chime to signal the end of a section. Each of the activities lasted roughly 20 minutes, with Mercer guiding the participants in a soothing voice. “The language of the Life/Art Process is exceptionally specific,” Mercer wrote, “because so much of the learning and choreographic process comes through language and visual representation, it’s important to be nuanced and detailed in the description of movements.”
All of his instructions were straightforward, every sentence carefully crafted and delivered in an even, low tone of voice to encourage the meditative aspects of the technique.
After the walk outdoors, attendees found a space in Bolton Dance Studio and performed various exercises in silence. At one point, they slowly lifted their arms into the air, sensing their balance as they relaxed their bodies ligament by ligament. As they repeated these movements while lying on the floor, members experimented with massaging and loosening their muscles — such as their faces or ribcages — to release any tension.
Halprin’s style involved another medium besides movement — visual art. After training the body to relax, each participant drew a pastel portrait of themselves based on how they currently felt. It was compelling to see the creative process, as most compositions were abstract, full of color and powerful.
Jacqueline Sanchez ’21 was surprised to see how her dancing and drawing reflected her unconscious mental processes. “Once I was relaxed, they flowed instinctively,” she said.
Afterward, the attendees wrote down single-word descriptions of their drawings such as “joy,” then communicated their significance through improvised dance movements. People seemed more willing to share their ideas and indulge in their imagination once the workshop ended, because it facilitated a judgement-free atmosphere.
Within the concluding dialogue and reflection, Mercer emphasized that the artwork was about sharing and supporting the process of others through being a witness. “Once you are aware of yourself in movement, you can transform the most ordinary into the extraordinary,” he said during the workshop. “You can discover your own style … that your daily pedestrian life is a potential dance.”