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Review: DANCE NATION is Brash, Brazen, and Unabashedly Beautiful

Review: DANCE NATION is Brash, Brazen, and Unabashedly Beautiful
(l-r): Elise Ogden, Susan Myburgh, Sarah Danko, Amy Downing,
Katy Atkinson, Whitney Abraham, and Michael Galvan.
Photo courtesy of Theatre En Bloc

DANCE NATION is the newest production from Austin's Theatre En Bloc. The play, written by Clare Barron, premiered in May 2018 and has been awarded the Relentless Award, the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. DANCE NATION was also a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize. The fiercely funny and shocking new work centers on a militant group of competitive pre-teen dancers hellbent on world domination. Determined to make their mark on their instructor's studio, the team claws their way to glory while navigating the challenges of their impending adulthood. As pressure mounts and the stakes are raised, each dancer must unleash their power and face this wild, unknown world head-on.

Under the direction of Theatre En Bloc's artistic director, Jenny Lavery, this one-act dramatic comedy packs an explosive punch and is a brilliant showcase of ensemble performances. As the dance team, Amy Downing, Sarah Danko, Whitney Abraham, Michael Galvan, Elise Ogden, Susan Myburgh, and Katy Atkinson devote themselves wholly to their young characters without a hint of irony. Never once doubted as a group of overzealous pre-teens, the cast leaves no emotional stone unturned. The result is a raw, unflinching spectacle that often feels more like a blood offering to adolescence than a play. As best friends Amina and Zuzu, Amy Downing and Sarah Danko create a heart-wrenching and all too familiar relationship between the two young women. The vulnerability and honesty of two friends in competition prove relatable in a way that is touching and tragic. Special recognition must also be given to Katy Atkinson as Ashlee, who delivers the piece's most galvanizing and stunningly vicious monologue. Atkinson fully explores the depths of her character going from plain-spoken to glorious and terrifying in the course of the brief speech. Dennis Bailey and Giselle Marie Muñoz as the play's only adult figures, Dance Teacher Pat and The Moms, also give strong performances despite their brief time onstage.

As the name suggests, the production features several choreographed group dance sequences. The desire and drive behind these moments make the act of dance feel like an unspoken character. While the first dance, a tap routine choreographed by Adam Roberts, is polished and pristine each subsequent number becomes increasingly more primal and animalistic. Disciplined poise gives way to wild movement as the dancers convey the deep yearning to dominate and win. Each is showcased as an individual in their own right, but all come together in the end to create a blazing tableau.

DANCE NATION is a visceral, unyielding portrayal of the journey from child to adult. Barron's blistering new work marvels at the force and intensity of teenage girls and the subsequent undermining of that innate power. Brash, brazen, and unabashedly beautiful, it thrills and arrests audiences from start to finish. All together the cast and creative team have perfectly captured the story's aching tenderness, biting humor, and undeniable life force.

DANCE NATION is now playing at the Long Center's Rollins Studio (701 W Riverside Dr, 78704) through September 15th. Thursday through Sunday at 8:00pm. Please note - this play includes mature themes, language, and content.

Optional Talk Backs following every performance with the cast and creative team

Running time (approximately): 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission

Ticket Prices: $34: Group A, $24: Group B, $15: Group C. Seating is by groups starting with Group A, then Group B, and finally Group C. Once in the theatre, patrons pick any open seat. Seating starts at 7:50pm.

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From This Author - Lacey Cannon Gonzales

Lacey Cannon Gonzales is a Creative Coach and Arts Educator based in Austin, Texas. She has been a contributing writer for BroadwayWorld Austin since 2016. Lacey was the co-artist... (read more about this author)