Healing Hands performances highlight mental health with unique methods

Photo courtesy of Karley Berrios.

The Berrie Center welcomed three new artists to Sharp Theater’s stage this past weekend to perform in Healing Hands, a two-act performance featuring new works-in-progress. Each performance used unique art disciplines to delve into the topic of mental health during these recent trying times, coupled by a use of breath as an escape and a grounding device.

Healing Hands Act I was held Saturday evening, showcasing Ballaro Dance and William Doan. The next act took place on Sunday afternoon, featuring classically trained violin and piano duo 48 St. Stephen, followed by another rendition of Doan’s piece. 

The first segment of Act I was “Embedded Memories,” presented by Ballaro Dance. The piece featured a single male narrator and three female dancers, all donned in a neutral color palette: tan, beige, light mauve and white. This essence of purity was accented with gold embellishments in unique places on each dancer’s body, and they lit up with LED lights. It is easy to guess that the lights laced on the dancers’ bodies reflect human scars found on one’s body, whether it be internal or external. 

From the first moments the narrator stepped foot onto the stage, audience members indulged in relaxing lights provided by several lanterns on stage and dangling from above. They added to the scenic depth of the show, as well as the significance of finding light during troubled times.

Most importantly, this detail helped illuminate the parts of oneself that may be seen as flawed or hidden away. Stories that are part of us forever are worthy of attention and being showcased for their beauty. 

As per the performance’s program, “‘Embedded Memories’ is rooted in honoring personal histories through the lens of scars and their images which live permanently on, and inside of, our bodies.”

Throughout the piece, a blend of soft music and audio clips from interviews, conversations and personal histories was conducted by choreographer and creator Marisa F. Ballaro at small workshops where people were able to share their stories of scars and living with them as part of their identity. 

“Embedded Memories” was a beautiful, enlightening performance that connected the audience to the performers on stage. Lucid movements and crisp audios evoked sensory pleasure, which is pivotal to the in-person community experience that we have been deprived of for nearly two years. 

“I think that the arts had a huge role to play in inviting people to actually be participatory,” said Ballaro during a post-performance conversation with Berrie Center Director Lisa Campbell. “Like in the beginning of the piece, take a deep breath with us… We're not on a TV screen that you're watching at home, we're all here together, breathing, being present.” 

Doan’s piece “My Anxiety Project” merged live performance and watching short animated narratives on a screen. Doan is a visual artist and uses drawing as an escape from and an entrance to his mental health struggles. Drawing and animation has become part of Doan’s personal journey to illuminating anxiety and depression as something worth embracing, not hiding away. 

During his performance, he displayed self-made graphics that vividly — and at times disturbingly — depict his battle with mental health and graphic events, such as his younger sister dying a few years back in a tragic car crash. He draws what he feels, and as Doan puts it, drawing has become his breathing. Through this process, he has been able to create a performance that speaks to others about anxiety and depression in a harsh yet comforting way. 

His vulnerability in telling stories is refreshing. For most of the performance, Doan spoke and told a narrative based on the art on the screen. The biggest chunk of the piece was a comic-like series of Doan talking with a crow about his fears and accepting his mental illness. The scenes balanced wit and humor with severity and darkness. Overall, “My Anxiety Project” invites us to believe that healing is possible if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and accepting of it. 

“The arts always have a role to play in healing,” Doan said while seated with Ballaro and Campbell. “I feel right now that the arts are going to help us rediscover community.”

Though community has been lost in a physical sense in the past two years, the slow transition back to in-person communal spaces has been a tool towards healing internal and external scars and struggles. The arts can be a helping hand, and with just a little bit of light and guidance, we can heal together, as a community.