UI Dance Gala’s piece ‘Unfinished’ inspired by personal story of schizophrenia diagnosis

This year's University of Iowa dance gala highlights themes of mental health, with inspiration coming from personal stories.
Published: Nov. 13, 2022 at 10:46 PM CST
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - “I had an onset of mental illness as a young adult. For about two decades, I was in and out of psych hospitalizations like a revolving door,” Margalea Warner explained.

It took years before Warner was diagnosed with schizophrenia; a mental illness characterized by psychosis and thought-processing problems.

“When the illness was at its worst, I heard a lot of frightening voices. I wasn’t sure if the voice was the voice of God. I had multiple suicide attempts because of the illness,” Warner added.

27 years ago was the last time she was hospitalized. As a former member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, she decided to write about her personal experience where she found ‘27 Keys to Better Mental Health.’

“Every year on the anniversary of my discharge, I meet with friends and every year I add a key to my collection. These are little keys and some of them are antique keys that I have in a shadow box. I name them for things that have kept me well,” she said.

Warner’s keys are something that associate professor of dance Eloy Barragan incorporated in his University of Iowa Dance Gala piece titled ‘Unfinished.’ His close friend Michael Judge had two brothers who suffered from schizophrenia. Through the Judge family, is how he met Warner.

“Her story, I find it very inspiring. How she was fortunate enough to find the right medication and to find support,” Barragan explained. “To find structures, things that she discovered that help her. Like her keys, her 27 keys. They are symbols of keep going and strength.”

Barragan’s piece ‘Unfinished’ is a contemporary ballet choreographed to Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. He hopes his piece acknowledges those dealing with all types of disorders, not just schizophrenia, and that it also brings more awareness to mental health.

“To really be more open to the conversation that a lot of people try to avoid, either because of society or religion, self-esteem. That they don’t want to be pointed at,” Barragan said. “I want to open the conversation. The conversation about that.”

Working alongside young dancers, Barragan believes it’s important to continue to be a part of these difficult discussions.

“Their lives are not finished. Their stories have not been finished,” Barragan said.

Warner hopes her courage to speak about her journey shines through.

“I have a story to tell and it gives me energy to tell it. If my vulnerability can help another person with the illness and their family, I want to do it,” Warner said.