Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of Tiny Beautiful Things
At first, the setup sounds a lot like something straight out of reality television. A dance troupe comprising seven girls and one boy (Justin Jain's ruffled sweetness is endearing) is competing to earn a trip to nationals in Tampa, Florida. Dance teacher Pat (Keith Conallen is uproarious) has his clear favorites and some of the moms (all are skillfully played by Julianna Zinkel) end up embarrassing their kids. However, this story is tightly focused on the young people. These dancers are not pawns of their parents or teachers. They are passionate and complex and insightful and all the things that pre-teen girls are not supposed to be.
Here is a group of girls ages 11-14 who are comfortable with their own budding sexuality. More than comfortable, they are excited and enthusiastic about their sexuality. In a clever move, the dancers are played by adults ranging in age from 20-60. This allows them discuss and do a variety of explicit things that would be taboo for a younger cast. It also encourages the audience to think about the women these girls will become, which is something Barron touches on a bit later in the show.
Taysha Maria Canales, Kimberly Chatterjee, Kimberly Fairbanks, Suli Holum, Campbell O'Hare, Brett Ashley Robinson, Julianna Zinkel render each young person with authentic ferocity and vulnerability. As alpha dancer Amina, O'Hare expertly balances ambition and self-doubt. O'Hare is also responsible for the production's creative choreography. Brett Ashley Robinson is excellent as Zuzu, Amina's earnest but overwhelmed best friend. Suli Holum is joyfully fierce as Ashlee and her monologue is one of the best things I have ever heard.
In a world in which any variety of lurid content is just one click away, Dance Nation's brutally honest portrayal of adolescent sexuality is deliciously shocking. The frank discussions about masturbation, menstruation, and beautiful pussies may make some viewers uncomfortable. For those of us who are tired of seeing young women portrayed as passive objects of affection lacking agency or intelligence, those conversations are a revelation. Either way, you should go see it while you can.
Dance Nation runs through November 17, 2019, at the Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad Street (Broad & Spruce Streets), Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, call the box office at 215-546-7824 or visit www.wilmatheater.org.