There are few beings on the planet that can be as dreamy, demented, or determined as teenage girls. When those teenagers belong to an elite dance troupe trying to get to Nationals you get the funny, poignant, and challenging DANCE NATION, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for best drama, playing at MOXIE Theatre through September 15th.
DANCE NATION follows a unique time of life for the girls and one boy of this competitive dance troupe; it navigates that time when adolescence is starting and childhood imagination and dreams start to mingle with the harsher realities of puberty, reality, stress, and anxiety.
Led by Dance Teacher Pat (Daren Scott), their goal is to reach the national competition in Tampa. But to get there they need to win other tournaments first and never waver in their focus. Using their adoration of a past star dancer named Sabina as inspiration (they invoke her name both in prayer and jealousy) the troupe is given a new dance for competition, this time in a piece about Gandhi.
Zuzu (Joy Yvonne Jones) is technically a good dancer, but lacks the special spark of her friend Amina (Wendy Maples). Both are supportive of one another, but also aware of their strengths and weaknesses. As Zuzu and Amina struggle to figure out what they really want, both in dance and in life, the rest of the troupe are trying to come to terms with life, the emotional and physical complications that come with being burgeoning adults, and even how to drink black coffee (with about 72 sugars in it).
Jones and Maples both have moments to shine as their characters realize which paths they are each destined to travel. Also, it’s lovely to see these competitors written as friends who can talk to each other and accept what they are each saying, even if they don’t fully understand. It’s a refreshing change from seeing talented women always pitted against each other.
Andréa Agosto has a monologue moment that stops the show as Ashlee, a young woman who is coming into her power. Instead of being scared by it she is embracing everything she can be and daring the world to tell her no. (Between her performance in this and BULL IN A CHINA SHOP at Diversionary, can Andréa teach a monologue masterclass somewhere?)
Sandra Ruiz is both vibrantly funny and vulnerable as Sofia, while Li-Ann Rowswell has an incredibly moving moment realizing that the cost of adulthood is the sacrifice of some of the magic of childhood.
All characters are played by adults, and all have varying dance experience. What this allows is the play told through conversations, dance performances, and even fast forward to give the now adult characters perspective years later. It also allows the characters to have clever and complex moments of self-realization and reflect on how impactful even small moments can ultimately be in someone’s’ life.
Directed by Jennifer Eve Thorn, the show manages a tricky balance of both being funny, wistful, and aggressive as characters plot and use each plié as another step on the path to finding themselves. Conversations between the group range from ambition, sex, hormones, emotions, and future plans as they each struggle to deal with their riotous emotions and bodies as everything seems to be changing both too fast and slow at the same time.
Much like its characters, DANCE NATION does not shy away from ambition and a sense of ferocity in the topics (or language), in order to embrace its full potential. It is a challenging and peculiar piece, but then again so is the time of life that it is trying to capture.
DANCE NATION is playing through September 15th at MOXIE Theatre. For ticket and show time information go to www.moxietheatre.com