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He Says: Dance Nation: Haunted By My 13 Year Old High Kicking Self

He Says: Dance Nation: Haunted By My 13 Year Old High Kicking Self
The faces on many as we made our way out of the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons were strangely happy and confused, all rolled up together. Many wondered aloud, what exactly was that they had just witnessed? And part of me could understand that state of being, because at moments throughout this spell-binding drama that revolves around a team of 13 year old girls working hard towards the goal of winning a dance competition in Florida, I also must have had that same look on my face. Clare Barron, the fantastic young playwright who won a 2015 Obie Award for her play, You Got Older, has delivered unto us Dance Nation, a new play that is a strange and mysterious beast, loud and hilarious, dark and disturbing, presenting itself as one thing, while becoming quite another few things in its magical next movement. It’s highly entertaining and wondrously funny, while also being drenched in the sweat of something quite powerful and aggressive all at the same. Dance Nation is complex and unique, invigorating your soul and your heart, while forcing your brain to do some masterful dance flips to wrap itself around all the layers presented.
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Members of the Cast with Thomas Jay Ryan (far right) of Dance Nation at Playwrights Horizons. All photos by Joan Marcus.
This band of young teenage girls are not at all what one would expect from that first delicious tap dance number.  Pushed and prodded by the fantastically created bully and pseudo-Dance Mom stand-in, Dance Teacher Pat, wondrously portrayed by Thomas Jay Ryan (Broadway’s The Crucible), these young girls are anything but young, and miraculously all about their age. They are a two-sided creation, young girls terrified about what they may become, and older women looking back at the ghosts of their younger selves.  It’s so meta-fantastic in it’s complexity, watching an older actress play a younger self, digging into the youthfulness of the adventure with the maturity at the heart. Played by a band of highly talented actresses whose age range has nothing to do with their character, they dare to ask the audience to see these teenage girls as actually young women, bursting at the seams, or fighting hard to stay safely tucked inside. Their sweat is their power, literally at moments, even when it is imaginary.
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Members of the Cast with Eboni Booth (center) of Dance Nation at Playwrights Horizons. All photos by Joan Marcus.
The white hot core of the piece comes midway when a verbal battle between one of the many dance moms (Christina Rouner) and Dance Teacher Pat leads to a pussy barre game, than a highly carnivorous and feral dance moment, scaring away the Dance Teacher by their sexual energy and aggression.  But it doesn’t end there, the ferocity of Zuzu’s fangs, played with powerful depth by the glorious Eboni Booth (LCT3’s After the Blast) releases a rebellion of sexual energy, culminating with a monologue by Ashlee, played majestically and powerfully by Lucy Taylor (ERS/Public’s The Sound and the Fury).  This young woman is claiming her beautiful self in a way that makes the world uncomfortable and anxious, and I couldn’t help but notice the stillness and discomfort hanging over the audience. Maybe this is all in my imagination, but as she powers through this expression of sexual growth and maturity, the crowd started to cough.  Not just once or twice, but a chorus of coughing ricochetted through the audience in a way that I had never heard before, especially within the stillness and straightforwardness of the monologue from this magnificent person standing alone center stage.  I wondered if this had something to do with these strong aggressively-seeming words coming out of what is meant to be a 13 year old girl’s mouth, but in actuality, it is being expressed by an older actress’ voice and body.  The layering is no ordinary dance, but something powerful in that complex dynamic. She’s a young woman, claiming her primal power by owning her beauty and ultimate power over the world, and with that power, she’s going to make everyone her bitch, basically. That image is extreme and real, ferocious beyond the words.
Dance Nation
Members of the Cast of Dance Nation at Playwrights Horizons. All photos by Joan Marcus.
Within Dance Nation, menstrual blood becomes warrior paint, as the canvas explodes into all developmental ideas of maturity and womanhood. Wonderfully realized by scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado (Roundabout’s Kingdom Come), costume designer Ásta Bennie Hostetter (Ars Nova’s The Lucky Ones), lighting designer Barbara Samuels (PR’s The Rape of…), and sound design by Brandon Wolcott (PH’s The Profane), we find tucked inside, these miraculous quiet scenes of introspection and dreams, laced with fear of the unknown and the dawning of a new day. There are so many moments of purity and raw magic. When Amina, played tenderly by Dina Shihabi (Cherry Lane’s Extreme Girls and One Guy) has a moral crisis revolving around the idea that her success will come at the cost of someone else’s failure, it is something she can’t quite wrap her head around. These woman, including Connie, played by Purva Bedi (NYTW’s An Ordinary Muslim), Sofia, portrayed by Camila Canó-Flaviá (Chester’s My Jane), and the magnificent Maeve, played by Ellen Maddow (Dixon Place’s The Peripherals), the one we all have to wait for, might in fact be all women, or maybe just one, but as directed with clarity and abstract expressionism by the great Lee Sunday Evans (Public’s The Winter’s Tale), it is in their yearning and questioning mindsets, playing with fantasy and expectations that the glory of these young women can be found. The urgency is real and planted in every dance move and side step, as if their life depended on it. Bad ass adult actresses looking at their teenage selves, and saying, “Dear God, let me play the part of Gandhi..“.
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Members of the Cast of Dance Nation at Playwrights Horizons. All photos by Joan Marcus.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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