BWW Review: DANCE NATION at The Ringwald is a Sight to Behold - Full of Surprises!
The Michigan premiere of Dance Nation is currently running until March 16th at The Ringwald. Clare Barron's play was a 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist and, also, won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Relentless Award (in a tie with Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves.) After successful runs at Playwrights Horizons in New York and at Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre, The Ringwald is proudly presenting the Michigan premiere of Barron's play. Dance Nation is an almost indescribable play - it's honestly one you have to see to believe, but that's half the fun in it. Plus, having Dance Nation in the hands of The Ringwald - it couldn't be in more capable of hands - it's the perfect theatre for the Michigan premiere of this play.
Dance Nation is a play that tells the story of six pre-teen girls and one boy (played by actors of all ages) in a competitive dance troupe from Liverpool, Indiana whose competitive season, under the expert guidance of Dance Teacher Pat, is leading to the finals. If they keep winning they'll make it all the way to Nationals in Tampa. And they'll get there on an airplane. But the more you think you know about this play and these characters, the more they will surprise you.
Surprise you indeed is exactly what this play does. I went in with expectations - not many as I only read what was on The Ringwald's website - but everything I expected was completely different; in a good way. I like to be surprised. The playwright definitely put thought into what she wanted the audience to think, and hopefully feel, while watching Dance Nation. I was so intrigued by the production at The Ringwald that I came home and researched it. In the script it states, "All characters except Dance Teacher Pat and The Moms are between the ages of 11 and 14 years old. However, they should be played by adult actors...There is no need for any of the actors to resemble teenagers. (In fact, please resist this impulse!)...Think of this as a ghost play: the actors' older bodies are haunting these 13-year-olds characters. (We're getting to see who they grow up to be!) And these 13-year-old characters are haunted by the specters of what they will become." The Ringwald's production of Dance Nation was exactly this and more.
Watching the cast of Dance Nation on stage I was uncomfortable and felt like I was back in my early teen years - something I have no desire to relive. Yet, at the same time, it did bring back happy memories of friendship and carefree, whimsical fun even though I knew I wasn't watching a 13-year-old dance troupe get ready for a competition. This cast threw everything into their roles and as Barron described in her script as it being "a ghost play," it was easy to see the performers as 13-year-olds switch to adults than the mask slip away and they were back to children again. And it was a really fun transformation to watch, even if, at times, the topics they were talking about were unsettling.
Dance Nation was a production that from start to finish keeps you guessing because you never really know what is coming next. Brandy Joe Plambeck has directed a fantastic and eccentric ensemble play that brought together an exceptional cast, which brings to life this raw and gritty, yet very humorous look at life as a 13-year-old girl. They are powerful beasts who grow up to be powerful women that had to start somewhere in order to get the baggage they have for the stories they tell. Don't fuck with them. I've been one. We've all met one. In fact, you might be one and I can't wait to see what you do. Clare Barron wrote our psyche out in an interesting way and The Ringwald brought it to Michigan for its premiere. Go see Dance Nation and claw your way to the top.
Mature audiences only. Contains nudity and adult situations.
Dance Nation runs until March 16th at The Ringwald in Ferndale. For more information and tickets, visit www.TheRingwald.com.