Review: DANCE NATION at Olney Theatre

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By: Oct. 05, 2022
Review: DANCE NATION at Olney Theatre
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Dance Nation is a 2019 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama by playwright and performer Clare Barron and directed for Olney Theatre by Jenna Place. The play follows a "tweenage dance team from Liverpool, Ohio, more is at stake than a first-place trophy." Its about the battle between self doubt and self belief as well as the devotion required in order to be truly great at something.

The choreography to Missy Elliot and other dance anthems by Assistant Director Nikki Mirza is filled with the chaotic angst of the preteen years but does not shine as bright as the stellar performances by this diversly colorful cast of adult actor of all ages playing adolescent girls (and one boy).

Moyenda Kulemeka's costuming choices are not elaborate but subtly thoughtful. From Dance Teacher Pat's (Michael Wood) all black attire with starry accents sparkle alongside the adages of Universality woven into his eccentric coaching style to Brigid Cleary in shades of pink spandex as Ashlee during her explosive feminist monologue on female power.

These strong feminist attitudes are undercut, however, through staged interaction between the group and Amina, the strongest member of their team and literal hero of the story. Amina motivates her teammates and leads rehearsals while still managing to alienate herself from the other girls through her, well...greatness. Jasmine Joy's Amina is reminiscent of a young Serena Williams on the tennis court or Beyoncé in the early years of Destiny's Child. Amina's talent and ambition prove to be most unbearable for her bestfriend Zuzu. Ashley D. Nguyen as Zuzu, the Icarus to the Amina's sun goes through several ranges of emotion from depression at trying to live up her mother's dream which leads to an almost demonic level of focus to an infectious joy as the character hits an emotional breakthrough. All of which are applaudable.

The cast is rounded out with several Olney debuts including Joy, Nguyen, Louis E. Davis as the lovestruck Luke, Yesenia Iglesias as Vanessa/the moms (Brava!), and Shubhangi Kuchibhotla (Connie) as well as returning artists MaryBeth Wise (Maeve) and Megan Graves she/her (Sofia).


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