April 20, 2018
Perfection drives every minute of the dance rehearsal. The troupe of pre-teens has a trophy to win, a mother to please, an ego to prop up. This is the universe of competitive dance. That doesn’t mean the troupe is composed of professional level student dancers--according to the talented playwright Clare Barron, it’s a tribe of conflicted students struggling to understand themselves and achieve a shiny medal.
When the curtain opens at Playwrights Horizons, a company of young dancers dressed in sailor outfits tap out a sweet Broadway style corps routine until someone collapses on stage. This shocking event results in the re-shuffling of dance troupe responsibilities. Directed and choreographed by Lee Sundah Evans, life lessons abound in this poignantly funny production.
In preparation for the next competition, the snarky self-absorbed teacher, director, choreographer-dictator Pat (Thomas Jay Ryan) selects the master of peaceful protest, Ghandi. Not something the girls can relate to, they do engage in their own form of protest by subverting their roles or their parents’ expectations.
Teen-age dread is magnified through the prism of competitive dance activities. Of the clutch of 6 dancers (Eboni Booth, Dina Shihabi, Purva Bedi, Camila Cano-Flavia, Lucy Taylor, Ellen Maddow, Ikechukwu Ufomadu), one member – Amina (Shihabi), can really dance, and actually looks like a dancer. She’s the star until she’s not. This re-jiggering of roles thrusts unsuspecting students into positions of expectations that demand more than they can manage.
In another twist, the young dancers are played by actors of varying ages from 20’s through 40’s. Indeed, upon deeper consideration, pre-teen students display a multiplicity of body types and personality formation. So this physical discrepancy suits the jumbled maturation levels of the young stars.
“Dance Nation” explores the ramifications of students striving to achieve excellence through an imposed set of demands from society and family members. Daughters and mothers collide, and group politics explode against a young girl’s attempt to repress excellence. And how often does that happen in the life of a young woman—the questioning of how to be exceptional without attracting attention? So much more to conside.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis