Spirit of Place
by Daria Halprin

The body provides an internal space and container for sensation, feeling and image to be evoked in movement. The studio provides an external stage and a sacred space which sets what happens in it apart from everyday life, ordinary concerns and states of being. As we cross over the threshold from street to studio, we are symbolically entering into another world. The studio itself ritualizes our transition and, when we use the geography of the space intentionally, shifts our experience with everything that happens inside its walls.

We invest the studio with metaphoric significance, giving it it’s own symbolic resonance which acts upon our imaginations, and frames our mythic journey, inspiring and provoking us as we dance to become more than our everyday, habitual selves. The liminal space of studio architecture and symbolism elevates even an everyday movement like walking into a dance. The studio becomes the space in which to receive and also to activate. It is a blank canvas upon which impressions appear, disappear, reappear, and change form. Studio is the place of practice, where the practitioner stays open to whatever arises. 

The moment the mover steps through the door of the studio, she does so with the awareness and attitude that she is stepping in to her practice, to utilize her creativity and the art medium of movement/dance, to shift her perception and her experience, to expand her consciousness, to bring new breath, new presence, new range of motion on all levels, including mind, to her life as a soloist and with others. She enters the studio as choreographer/alchemist, with the intention to meet whatever comes up in her movement and utilizes it. She treats the studio as sacred geometry.

The architecture of the space symbolizes and joins the myths and metaphors being explored. Studio is empty space, it can be a place where things are constructed: altars, installation pieces, everyday objects used as art pieces. Walls and floors are invested by the dancers’ imagination as surfaces upon which to lean, push against, fall into, rise up off of, leap and lunging, run from or towards, circle and spiral around.   The studio acts as if: childhood home, the place for anything new is possible, the interior space of mind or heart. Windows can be utilized to imagine looking out into the world beyond the literal, for reaching toward things on the other side or far away, doorways as space for entrance and departure dances. Marcel Duchamp reframed post-modernist viewpoints concerning the life/art bridge with his definition of object d’arte, as being that which the artist points at. In this same sense, every pedestrian movement and every object in the studio is infused as a dance and as a resource for the dance enactment, because it is in the studio. Set apart from the business of life, the studio is a soulful place to go; to be energized and where everything can be contained, symbolized, enacted and transformed.

Nature as studio:

The natural environment is a source for inspiration that brings a sense of spirituality and the sacred to people in a variety of ways. For my father, landscape and environmental designer Lawrence Halprin, it was a place for him to find inspiration for his work in the visual experience of nature, in the movement, organic principles and processes of the landscape .He had no interest in mimicking. What he challenged himself to do was to adapt and re-translate so that in any environment, including the heart of urban living, the spiritual qualities that he found in nature could be reinvented and re-experienced in the midst of ever-day life. It has been my interest to interact with nature as a metaphoric process, for psychological and transcendent experience as well as for creativity.

Looking to translate a spiritual relationship with nature in the creative matter of movement/dance, the natural landscape is approached as if it is the outdoor studio, a place to move in and through, informing and trans-forming our way of moving and our personal mythology. Outer nature becomes a macrocosm for inner nature, a clear mirror that reflects body and psyche in an altogether unique way.  When we dance in nature, she mirrors, partners, and teaches us.

Natural elements of the environment act upon us move us differently; take us to new places in our bodies, emotions and imaginations. We act with nature, using its elements as poetic metaphors for elements in our lives and in our dances: trees inform us about grounding, rooting into the earth, with branches extended. Rivers show us about flow, undercurrents, what happens to movement as it encounters large rocks. Ocean acts as a metaphor for stories in our lives, becoming the untamable waters of life, sometimes calm and other times crashing.

As movers in a natural environment we aren’t tourists, simply observing the view, remaining outside or above it. Instead we enter into it, literally, we engage physically with its physicality. It becomes our dance partner as we invest and are invested by what we see, hear, sense with meaning. We throw stones into water as a dance ritual for letting things go. We mirror the movement of tree branches being swayed by the wind, letting the movement itself open us up to something unknown, unplanned. We dig in earth and it becomes a dance of burials, or grappling with something. We climb a hill on all fours, pull ourselves up through plants, over rocks, as a dance enactment that tells it’s own story through the physical encounter between dancer and hill.

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