Falling Apart and Back Together

"The alchemy of performance changes something that was sad - it causes a chemical reaction in your bloodstream and it comes out joyful." - Florence Welch of ‘Florence in the Machine’

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. In my work, the ‘awareness’ of emotional and mental health is present all year round. We can’t avoid the hard truth that life is a series of ups and downs, filled with loss and uncertainty. One of the most influential mentors in my life’s work, Daria Halprin, has spoken to this concept: 'Since we are bound to suffer, we might as well make art about it.'

For years, I was on the core faculty at Tamalpa, co-founded by Daria and her mother Anna Halprin, the internationally recognized movement-based expressive arts institute located in Northern California. As part of the training, we would guide students to learn experientially. Through this process, every student would creatively explore and document their life experiences for several months.

Drawings, dances, stories, and poetry were the mediums to examine the healing process as it moved through one’s body and emotional landscapes. This culminated in a performance ritual shared with their peers. Note: When we add the word 'ritual' to art it takes away the idea that the purpose is to entertain. A ritual is a sacred act that can be healing for individuals and/or communities.

This expressive way of working through the lens of creativity has truly changed my life and has been the catalyst in my work with recovery from addictions, grief, and trauma. These health challenges fragment us. We lose our ground, and in many ways, life falls apart. Sometimes our bodies fall apart as well.

If we can find a creative outlet as a way to express this fragmentation with curiosity, something incredible can emerge. Our pain is held and visible. And eventually, if we can stay present with ourselves and the art process, our pain can transmute into something new. Like a jigsaw puzzle, art helps us put the pieces back together. Through the power of our expression, we can find release, and with this alchemy, joy can arise.

Lana's Performance:

I have coached many clients and students over the years since Tamalpa to create revelatory art about their life's struggles in hopes of finding transformation. I recently had the honor of working with Lana Benedek over six months time creating a performance project around her emotional experience being a child of Holocaust survivors. Lana wanted to dance and find a way to tell a story that was authentic and specific to her. She also knew it was important to share the performance with an audience.

Due to Lana's hard work and persistence in staying with the unknown and exploring some very painful truths, she developed an incredibly powerful piece of art. This spring, Lana brought her performance ritual to a group of friends and family in her hometown of Los Angeles.

I couldn’t be with her in person due to the distance, but it was a very emotional experience to see her piece develop over time, and then to watch the video recording – to witness the reverence in Lana's face when dancing and telling the story, and hearing the resounding applause of the audience as she bowed at the end.

It confirmed once again that art can help us tend to the deepest of wounds—it can help us mend our hearts and souls.


Please Note! I will be back online at Tamalpa Institute this June, offering these two potent workshops. if you would like to dance, draw and write…

Jun 07, 2024 – Moving Through Grief 

Jun 14, 2024 – Unhooking from Addictive Habits


Photo: A moment from Lana Benedek's performance. 

Credit: Katherine Nilsen