Sally Jacques calls them "youth in transition," referring to the young people with whom she and the teachers from her Blue Lapis Light aerial dance company have been collaborating for the past 18 weeks. They are youth who need a range of services and support and who may be new parents, unemployed, or even homeless. Unlike previous monikers – such as "at-risk" – that have been attached to such young people, "in transition" deftly sidesteps both negativity and political correctness, implying instead movement and change, a body on a journey rather than in constant danger. Initially developed with Fine Arts Academy students at McCallum High School, Blue Lapis Light's Youth Taking Flight program recently found a new home at LifeWorks, a full-service organization offering local youth critical services, ranging from counseling to housing, education, and workforce assistance.
Stepping away from her usual creative process – conceiving a theme and building the final piece around the concept – Jacques relinquished her role as leader to follow the students' vision and let them shape the multimedia piece titled Awakening. Drawn from interviews with the participants, the piece utilizes the youths' own voices and life stories as both scaffolding and fabric. This deeply personal process began with a centering practice designed to help participants learn to cope with the internal effects of chaotic life experiences and to begin traveling the path toward healing by employing both artistic and therapeutic perspectives. "It's not just therapeutic," Jacques asserts. "The students were listened to in a creative environment and provided the space and opportunity to give form and expression to the process of change. It is our goal to create a sense of community and caring. We don't want to see youth fall through cracks."
And in a hard economic environment, Blue Lapis Light paid its young performers, most aged 14-18, to take part in the inaugural collaboration. Generous grant funding allowed Jacques to compensate the dancers for rehearsals and performances, fulfilling her company's longtime mission to promote social justice by example. When asked how the work fits in with Blue Lapis Light's creative direction, her first response was to characterize it as "transitions of movement and intent," an apt parallel for investigating a life-in-progress.
Awakening will run Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 18 & 19, 7:30-8:30pm, in the Rollins Studio Theatre of the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 474-5664 or visit www.thelongcenter.org.
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