Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Parades and Changes" by Anna Halprin

presented by BAM/PFA 
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive
February 15th, 2013

Last weekend, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive was home to a much anticipated three-night return of Anna Halprin’s 1965 work, “Parades and Changes”. Rumored to be this dance’s final staging, these three performances served a dual purpose. First, they introduced this famous work (or infamous, depending on who you ask) to a new generation and second, they helped to complete an artistic circle. Halprin’s postmodern composition was part of BAM/PFA’s opening in 1970 and the institute is currently readying itself to move to a new home over the next few years. With this 2013 engagement, “Parades and Changes” has bookended a large section of the BAM/PFA story; providing a fitting sense of closure to one chapter and launching the entity into its next season of life.

“Parades and Changes” began as composer Morton Subotnick took center stage; the cast having been already assembled and sprinkled throughout the audience. As each dancer shared stories of ‘personal remembrance’, Subotnick conducted them as he would an orchestra. Filled with musical cut-offs, crescendos, accents and accelerandos, the overlapping voices and interrupted sentences morphed into a polyphonic song. Once this entr’acte was complete, the cast took the stage with their official introduction; a wonderfully bizarre set of opening credits.

The undressing/dressing scene was slow and deliberate, like watching the effect of a strobe light. Here was pedestrian movement being stylized, as the dancers stared, trance-like, into the horizon. Each of the fourteen performers disrobed and then re-dressed in their own time, at their own pace and once completely dressed, resumed the walking and strolling that took up much of “Parades and Changes”. The second undressing tableau was a little different, with the addition of mirroring. No longer a lone experience, the performers worked in groups of twos and threes, imitating each other’s speed and movements. The paper-tearing section followed, and lastly, a rhythm percussion vignette, which was a little bit Judson and a little bit “Stomp” all at the same time.

Anna Halprin
Photo by Kent Reno
“Parades and Changes” is an example of Halprin’s scored choreography, where each dance is derived from a group of tasks/goals. From one performance to the next, the score for the same piece may occur in a different order and each segment’s duration may vary. A study and method of structured improvisation, this kind of choreographic system turns the self-indulgent practice of dance improv into a useful theatrical tool.

I had never seen “Parades and Changes” live before, though of course, was familiar with both its history and legacy. So, I was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to see such an important part of the postmodern oeuvre in person. And because of its newness for me, I assumed that I wouldn’t have expectations or preconceptions, but I did. “Parades and Changes” was very good and the major tenets of postmodernism were clearly present within it: egalitarianism, non-conformity, porous boundaries between life and art and a commitment to form and structure. However, it is impossible to ignore all the hype that surrounds this one dance. I was anticipating that it would absolutely change my life, and it didn’t. For me, it was most definitely an important experience but neither artistically nor academically revelatory. 


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