Capturing masters

A nude 78-year-old Anna Halprin — a former Broadway beauty turned revolutionary, a West Coast dance and healing pioneer — lounges pinup-style under a sheet of leaves on the exposed root of a Marin County redwood.

The Halprin photograph, playfully titled “Forest Nymph,” is one of dance-photojournalist Rose Eichenbaum’s favorites in her new book, “Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers,” an inspiring and stunning collection of 59 black-and-white portraits paired with short vignettes of America’s most influential choreographers.

While the book memorializes the last half-century of dance leaders, it is also a personal journey for the photojournalist Eichenbaum — one woman traveling through the history of dance via her interactions with the retired masters and up-and-coming hotshots.

Eichenbaum will join San Francisco dance greats Edward Villella and Lines Ballet’s Alonzo King in a discussion at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Wednesday, Oct. 27.

While in the Halprin essay Eichenbaum questions the mature dance innovator about the “road maps” of connecting body and spirit that she developed to guide her creative process, Eichenbaum herself knows a few things about developing her own road maps as an artist.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors (the book is dedicated to her parents Adela and the late Wolf Manheimer), the 51-year-old from Encino and her brother, Aron Hirt-Manheimer, editor at Reform Judaism magazine, paved their way into the arts without guidance.

“My parents were not in the arts,” Eichenbaum explains. “They were just trying to survive after coming to this country and learning to navigate a new language and a new culture. We were thrust into the world with no blueprint. We both ended up in the arts. We found it on our own.”

Eichenbaum draws a direct connection between her family values and her successful career in the arts.

“My parents taught me about being sensitive to the human spirit, treating everyone with honesty, integrity and respect. That comes from upbringing values inherent in Judaism,” she says.

“My husband is the son of freedom fighters for the state of Israel. From my husband’s side of the family, I learned to be bold, strong, full of conviction and generous portions of chutzpah.”

Six years ago Eichenbaum, whose work has been published in most major dance magazines, was looking for a project to give her “greater meaning.” At a meeting at the Dance magazine office she showed editors a portrait of choreographer Donald Byrd. Their overwhelmingly positive response and encouragement raised the curtain on a new performance — the “Masters” book.

“I didn’t go in with the intention of interviewing everyone. But I just never stopped,” she says. “I became addicted. Before I knew it, I had collected over 75 encounters. I knew from early on it was something powerful.”

And the result is as powerful as an eight-hour block of jazz rehearsal.

In “Rebellious One” 90-year-old Anna Sokolow is caught in a spontaneous, humbling pose, a lifetime of dancing obvious in the elegant stretch of her arms. In the background a framed photograph shows a 20-year-old Sokolow in the same position.

Eichenbaum catches in “Bad Boy of Dance” an arrogant and unwilling Mark Morris, unshaven and cranky in the morning. The manipulated shot exposes a star out of the spotlight.

Sophie Maslow discusses the power of dance to inform non-Jewish World War II audiences about Jewish issues.

“I wanted to help in some way,” she told Eichenbaum. “Communicator” captures the edge-pushing Russian choreographer relaxing in her New York City apartment. “Even though I personally felt that nothing I could do in dance could ever measure up to the horrors of the Holocaust.”

Through her photographs, Eichenbaum reaches to achieve her own definition of a successful portrait.

“It must have a powerful composition — when all the elements in a photo come together at the right moment,” she says. “And then there is the subject itself. The portrait reveals not just what they look like but who they are.”

In 1987, Eichenbaum accepted the challenge of uncovering the essence of a character with whom she was very familiar. Eichenbaum illustrated David Adler’s book “The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm,” the story of a relationship between a 7-year-old child and her grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor.

In the first draft of the book the child was a boy. Eichenbaum realized that if the author was willing to change the gender of the child, she could use as a model her own daughter Ariella, who was a granddaughter of survivors and knew about the Holocaust, “along with her bedside stories.” The author agreed.

Polish-born Holocaust survivor Sigfreied Halbreich and Ariella modeled for the book in which Eichenbaum won a Sydney Taylor Book Award.

“We used my house and his home as studios. I did not need to coax the models. Both were in tears. It went very naturally into real life.”

“Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers” by Rose Eichenbaum (265 pages, Smithsonian Books, $39.95).

Edward Villella and Alonzo King join Rose Eichenbaum in a conversation at “Words on Dance” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St. $10-$18. Information: (415) 292-1233.