Dance can be a cutthroat sport. This is especially true for a group of prepubescent, adolescent, and rambunctious preteens in a dance competition who are told the results will change their lives.
However, the twist here is these teens are not actually portrayed by age appropriate preteens, but by a wide age range. Therein lays comedy and the rub for the rest of this story.
Fervently directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques with lively choreography by Audrey Johnson, Apollinaire Theatre Company presents Clare Barron’s Dance Nation live and in person at Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea, Massachusetts through May 14. Dance Nation has mature themes. The show is 100 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and for tickets.
A lot is at stake at Liverpool Dance Works in Liverpool, Ohio. From dance moms to competing with a best friend, Dance Nation delves into the pressure of perfection and the discoveries of coming of age including and certainly not limited to the magic of black coffee. It starts out with some amusing moments and it excels in depicting some of the angst, uncertainty, heartache and anguish associated with growing up. It personifies the travesties in a young girl’s life, her changing body, the all or nothing attitude in just about everything, and the sensitivity of a young heart. Everything is a victory or an absolute disaster.
Joseph Lark-Riley boasts a heart thumping, catchy and memorable sound design. Elizabeth Rocha’s dynamic costumes range from delicate tutus to casual wear and Nathan Lee and Jennea Pillay’s realistic scenic design create an everyday teen dance studio complete with hanging coats, multilevel compartments for shoes and dance bags as well as metal trophies displayed like a pillar of excellence for every student to strive for.
Dance Nation is highlighted with some fascinating performances. Katie Pickett delicately portrays self conscious and sensitive Zuzu with a tangible anxiousness and discomfort in her own skin. Dev Luthra portrays occasionally testy, sketchy, manipulative and yet inspiring Dance Teacher Pat. Luthra’s rapport with the students is complicated, especially with Audrey Johnson’s complex and conflicted perfectionist Amina. Paola Ferrer impressively juggles not only depicting a dancer, but the supportive, not quite in touch, and competitive dance mom whose child should always be the star. Imagination sweetly runs wild with Ann Carpenter as Maeve while Schanaya Barrows savagely depicts a mix of ego, vanity and complicated uncertainty as Ashlee.
Then somehow, it starts to lose its way. Dance Nation was funny until it becomes what some might call “fierce.” Teens do speak like little adults which is part of the humor of the show, but they are not adults and the show contains some unnecessarily dark and absurd scenarios that become more frequent as the show progresses. It can be anguish and cringe worthy to be a preteen, but some avenues in which this show takes do not resemble the average teen and it becomes too farfetched and graphic. Perhaps the crazy scenarios are to show the kids building their wild natures and confidence, but there are several other ways to depict that without the shock value that does not lend to the progression of the story.
With that being said, Claire Barron’s Dance Nation has its share of powerful and sound moments that resonate on a child’s tumultuous journey into adulthood with humor, sweetness, and poignancy…but beware the cringe.
Apollinaire Theatre Company presents Clare Barron’s Dance Nation live and in person at Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea, Massachusetts through May 14. Dance Nation has mature themes. Click here for more information and for tickets.