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BWW Review: FRAGMENTS, A LIVE AUDIO STORY is a Quiet, Yet Richly Introspective Experience

In muted, hushed tones, this live audio installation has a lot to say about the power of communities

BWW Review: FRAGMENTS, A LIVE AUDIO STORY is a Quiet, Yet Richly Introspective Experience
L to R: Celia Mei Rubin & Hannah Balagot.
Photo by Olivia Palacios.

Nestled in a small fitness studio on the upper extremities of the Upper West Side, a small, socially distanced audience gathered for a live performance. Before us, an elevated portion of the gym served as a stage. Lights hang from the same rigs that clients used to do pull ups. It's been a long road since March 2020, but the world is healing and Mandie Rapoza's performance art piece, FRAGMENTS, A LIVE AUDIO STORY, is a welcomed and much needed breath of fresh air in a world where in-person art has been almost completely dormant.

The piece, reimagined since it's sold out world premiere at Dixon Place, is now described as a "live audio installation, supplemented with two live dancers and projected video content." This doesn't mean that it's not theatrical. Performative in nature, it still asks audiences to listen and observe, even if some of the filmed imagery is repetitive and the dancers are not always present on stage when the pre-recorded dialogue is being played. In its current format, we are totally immersed in the morray of Herta's Alzheimer's-addled mind, and encounter her memories as they battle each other for our attention across this intimate, roughly 60 minute portrait of dementia.

BWW Review: FRAGMENTS, A LIVE AUDIO STORY is a Quiet, Yet Richly Introspective Experience
Hannah Balagot.
Photo by Olivia Palacios.

The audience experiences formative moments from Herta's traumatic youth paired with introspective scenes from her adulthood. At 10 years old, Herta's 'friend' Minna shames her for being poor and says things to her like, "You have a rot inside of you." Minna also constantly talks about how she, her family (which is Herta's foster family), and the Nazis will cleanse and purify Herta by helping her rise out of poverty. As an adult, we see Herta as a mother and housewife. She is often consumed by chores and tasks around the house, but the emotional apex of the piece occurs when she must come to terms with her daughter's engagement to a Jewish man and what he and his family may think and feel about her past.

Hannah Balagot dances the role of 10 year old Herta with captivating emotional clarity. We first see her youthful joy get soiled by bullying as her free flowing movements are replaced by angular shapes, representing her angst and frustrations. As the piece progresses, Herta becomes more indoctrinated by the Nazi party and the Hitler Youth, and, as choreogprahed by Rapoza, the angular yet wild force of Herta's anger is displayed through Balagot's spellbinding regimented and militaristic dance. We watch Herta lose herself to a community that promises to support and care for her.

BWW Review: FRAGMENTS, A LIVE AUDIO STORY is a Quiet, Yet Richly Introspective Experience
Celia Mei Rubin.
Photo by Olivia Palacios.

Playing Herta at 39, Celia Mei Rubin's presence in the show feels less chroegorahped than Balagot's dance pieces. Instead, Rubin works her way through pristinely directed movements that further emphasizes Herta's life long trajectory of losing herself in whatever role she is currently tasked with playing. Folding clothes, laying out a dinner table, cleaning up after dinner, we see adult Herta as a woman who busies herself with her house and domestic identity. Even without the lives of an entire ethnoreligious group in peril, we cannot help but wonder if this solitude and subservience is any less damaging to Herta's psyche than her buying into the fervor of the Nazi movement through her relationship with Minna and Minna's parents.

Altogether a quiet piece, FRAGMENTS, holds the mirror up to the notion of community and how we navigate our way in and out of communities. It explores what we give up to belong and what burdens we may be forced to endure when we are brought face-to-face with a community we wronged, even passively. "It was different in those days. We didn't get to choose. I was a child. But I did believe in him. We all did. He looked after us," says Herta towards the end of the piece. Despite holding empathy for Herta, the audience must choose whether she is absolved of her participation in the heinous atrocities committed by Hitler and his Nazi party. This is compounded further when reflecting on the BBC newscast about Trump being unlikely to win the 2016 election that opens the show. Now, we must also ponder how much we may forgive those who got passively swept away by Trumpian politics.

FRAGMENTS will play Saturdays and Sundays at 6:00pm and 7:30pm, on May 8-9, and May 15-16, at Liberated Fitness (1005 Columbus Avenue). In accordance with New York State guidelines, all performances will accommodate socially distanced seating at a maximum of 10 people per performance, with face coverings required for everyone including performers, as well as a contactless temperature check upon arrival and health questionnaire in order to get into the building. Tickets can be purchased at www.MandieRapoza.com/Fragments.


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