Culture

Choreographer Oona Doherty asked young people about UK's 'good, bad and ugly'. This is what they said

The National Youth Dance Company (NYDC)'s groundbreaking new show Wall depicts Britain through the eyes of young people

A rehearsal image from Wall. Credit: Sadler Wells.

Young people are often the subject of feverish media speculation.

Why aren’t they voting? Will they ever get on the housing ladder? Do they need national service to “toughen them up?”

The habits, aspirations, and fears of Generation Z are the subject of endless debate. Seldom, however, are young people included in the conversation.

With a ground-breaking new show Wall, the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) are helping change that.

Guest artistic director Oona Doherty asked 32 young dancers: If you spoke to Britain what would it say? Who is it?

The 16-24 year-old cohort had plenty to say about the “good, the bad, and the ugly” in the United Kingdom.

“I got positivity, ambition, hopefulness, drive,” says Doherty.  “I got worry: they’re worried about the climate, they’re worried about queer rights, trans rights, about equality. They’re worried about their A levels.

“There’s complexity, there’s intelligence, there’s passion. They’re a bunch of legends, really.”

The London premiere of Wall will take place at Sadler’s Wells Theatre on Saturday 13 July; shows in Wakefield, Falmouth, Ipswich, Latitude Festival and Leicester will follow.

To create the work, Oona Doherty and the NYDC team interviewed the dancers about the UK; in turn, the cast did the same with members of a different generation. Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey spliced the resulting audio to soundtrack a powerful hour of dance where the dancers “fall and fall – but keep getting up again.”

Doherty is an acclaimed dancer and choreographer. Her first solo work – Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus – was awarded the “Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival Best Performer Award” in 2016 and the winner of the “Total Theatre Dance Award” at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. In 2019, it was voted “No. 1 British dance performance of 2019” by the Guardian.

But she knows first-hand how the arts can change a young person’s life. Born in 1986 in London, she moved to Belfast when she was 10 and studied at St Louise’s comprehensive college in Belfast.

“I failed my 11 plus exam, so I went to a comprehensive college. But I was really lucky – we had one teacher there who trained dancers, put everything into it, ran an after school club and everything,” she said

“Not everyone has that. You might get lucky like that – but what country you’re in, what class, what school you go to, determine what opportunities you get.”

Cuts to funding have devastated arts education across the UK, and Northern Ireland has been particularly hard hit.

In 2023-24, Stormont’s budget for education was reduced by about £70m or 2.5%. Continued inflation means that the real-terms reduction is much larger. There is a £300m gap between what funding the education system needs and what it has, the department of education has warned.

Arts education is often the first to feel the pinch.

“Reduced funding may prevent disadvantaged children from availing of activities such as art, sports, music and drama, opportunities they are otherwise less likely to be able to access,” a recent report from Ulster University warned.

Programs like NYDC help nurture young dancers who are looking to be professionals. It’s “fantastic,” Doherty says – but arts provision should be for everyone.

“Even if you don’t become an artist, per se, at that age, it’s so important to have those opportunities to be creative. It’s good for your social skills, for your confidence, for your brain development. Everyone is having to make do with less. The funding has just been cut. In Northern Ireland particularly, it’s been cut more than anything else – it’s on the brink.”

With Britain under a Labour government for the first time in 14 years, change might be coming. But the real transformation will come from the next generation, Oona Doherty says – and we’re in good hands.

“It matters what they think. Some of them, maybe some of them up there sweating on stage, will be the next politicians. And like I said – they’re legends.”

You can get tickets for Wall here. The London premiere of Wall will take place at Sadler’s Wells Theatre on Saturday 13 July.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us more. Big Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
'Who's your favourite Spider-Man?': Why the future of Spidey looks thwipping exciting
Film

'Who's your favourite Spider-Man?': Why the future of Spidey looks thwipping exciting

'It makes a good punchline': Meet the Edinburgh Fringe comedians playing their neurodiversity for laughs
Comedian Meave Press will perform at the Edinburgh Fringde
Edinburgh Fringe

'It makes a good punchline': Meet the Edinburgh Fringe comedians playing their neurodiversity for laughs

Marc Almond on being the antidote to Thatcher and why he's probably a queer icon after all
English singer Marc Almond in a low-lit photo with a black background
Music

Marc Almond on being the antidote to Thatcher and why he's probably a queer icon after all

Top 5 books about state control, chosen by Icelandic author Fríða Ísberg
Books

Top 5 books about state control, chosen by Icelandic author Fríða Ísberg

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know