Fourteen-year-old Carly Hay likes to put her feelings into dance.
“So when you’re dancing to things that have been difficult or that you’re struggling with, it’s like pushing the feelings out of your body,” she said.
“Like when you exhale air, you let that air go. So when you dance, bottle up emotions or things you haven’t told people or inner feelings, you’re somehow sort of letting go and being seen for what it is.
“Children nowadays” is like a massive exhalation for Hay.
The 75-minute show, which runs Friday and Saturday at Lincoln Performing Arts School, is the latest offering from the Louisville modern and contemporary dance company. Ambo Dance Theater. It’s about the universal challenges of adolescence, but tackles issues that have become almost absurdly routine for this generation, like school shootings or the constant presence of social media in teenage life.
Members of Ambo’s professional company and founder and art director Amberly Simpson helped polish the work, which features more than a dozen middle and high school students. But it is the experience of the students, and in large part their choreography, that motivates her.
Hay said it gave him more agency in the process, and it was powerful.
“There’s no way to avoid finding someone’s core because you see it in the dance they do,” she said.
Putting motion on words that may be hard to say
Each section begins with a conversation.
Sofia Ritchie is one of the dancers in a segment about being a young person of color in America. The 15-year-old said the discussions the dancers had before the choreography began helped her realize she was not alone.
“Talking about it and seeing that it was such a universal experience is so heartwarming to hear, but at the same time devastating because these are heavy topics that I don’t think any child should have to endure, really anyone. “, she said. said.
The talks bring the dancers to a vulnerable place, so that together they can create something real.
Rylan Cole, 13, said it can be uncomfortable, but necessary.
“I think we have the right conversations and we’re comfortable enough with each other to be able to present something very vulnerable and stage it,” Cole said. “But some of these things need to be discussed.”
The show is made up of longer movements, solos, duets and shorter vignettes, including one about LGBTQ identity in adolescence.
Another section reflects on exercises that teach students how to survive a mass shooting.
“We had to do these exercises again and again, for years and years,” said dancer Scout Tarquinio, 15.
She said that as part of this training, they learned that “one of the things we can do is play dead.”
“And it’s absolutely insane to have to make a student play dead,” Tarquinio said.
The section entitled “Neither distract nor disturb” examines the application of the dress code in school – the title is taken from the language of a real student textbook. Dancers put on and take off outfits over their dancewear. The clothes are pieces for which they received actual dress code violations.
“It’s not necessarily the dress codes and the way they themselves are written that are the problem,” Ritchie said. “That’s how they’re applied, especially in middle school and high school.”
It all comes back to mental health, the unifying theme.
“We have adults saying, really, ‘Man, kids these days are so sensitive.’ We’re not sensitive,” Ritchie said. “We’re trying to create change.”
Children these days have a lot to say
The aim of the show is not to have all the answers. It’s to be heard
“I hope this can be an outlet to show [adults] how we feel and what happens in our lives every day,” said 14-year-old Madalyn Durst.
Scout Tarquinio hopes the performance will inspire adults to become more accepting of “their own family members, who they are, how they identify and how they present themselves”.
Vivian O., 17, has a clear message for the public: “We are stronger than most people think we are.
“We have been through a global pandemic,” she said. “We have survived school shootings. We survived a lot of things they never saw.
Rylan Cole said it was “the story of our generation, so I think it’s important to us”.
“There are still things going on in society that hurt young people, and we are no less knowledgeable and unable to talk about them,” Cole said. “We’re just avoided saying how we really feel.”
And this generation cannot tackle all of these challenges alone, including big societal issues like the climate crisis and racial equity, said Sofia Ritchie.
“We have a voice and, yes, we have some power. But we are not in power yet. Many of us cannot yet vote. I know I can’t,’ she said. “We need adults and older generations to be on our side.”
Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.