The youth of TranscenDANCE have discovered a secret weapon and they’re not afraid to use it. The City Heights-based performance collective of primarily high school and some college students ranging in age from 16-21 uses the arts to share the stories of its young members and their communities. In the process, it has equipped these kids with a power tool that often times feels like a weapon: their voice. And they use that voice to speak their truth, whether within the context of their evening-length performances, or during post-performance discussions where, last night at least, one member of the troupe, after making some comments she realized may be unpopular, said simply something to the degree of, “I’m sorry if I’m offending. But this is what I’m thinking, this is my truth, and I’m just going to share it”.
Likewise, TranscenDANCE shares its stories and thoughts without apologizing for the difficulty of its message. And indeed, the message can be difficult. Last season, the company addressed such heavy topics as sexual abuse and violence, mixed with more humorous musings on the infiltration of technology in our lives and the affect of it on our relationships. This year, the company collaborated with the AJA Project – another City Heights-based organization that empowers refugee youth to document their stories and experiences through photography and multi-media.
The resulting show, 4 Corners, blended dance, spoken word, and film in an exploration of self and identity and the struggle to maintain both across generations when ones life experience can be so different from that of one’s grandparents, or even parents. Dressed in colorful, flowing costumes that resembled traditional African dress and with a movement vocabulary that was heavily influenced by African dance, the performance felt far more steeped in the past and in non-American cultures than the hip-hop infused choreography and style of their previous show. In that sense, 4 Corners, was an attempt to embrace ones history and validate it. Yet as the performers frequently posited questions like, Who Am I?, they suggested that their past histories are just one component of how they see themselves and that they continue to discover other ideas about who they are.
TranscenDANCE doesn’t shy away from heavy issues. Whether it be voiceovers of the AJA youth telling truly horrific stories about their families’ journeys to the United States or dissecting racial and gender politics, these youth tell it as they see it and with an honesty that is at times frightening. One particularly poignant moment came before the end of the first half. A young girl walks backwards down stage and turns to reveal her pregnancy. 19-year old Angelica Lopez, with her big, round belly, stared at the audience as a voiceover featured youth talking about their hopes and dreams for their future. Meanwhile, Lopez, as we all did, looked down at her future. In the second half, Lopez performed a graceful solo that celebrated life – that which is and that which will be. The subject of teenage pregnancy is as about as taboo as you can get. But TranscenDANCE and the brave Lopez put it front and center, forcing us to acknowledge it. And not just acknowledge it but to embrace it, to see it as something empowering. And beautiful.
And that’s the unique characteristic of TranscenDANCE, that ability to be in your face and confrontational… in the most inspiring and uplifting ways.