By Peter Maddern

When a group of pubescing girls (and one guy) come together to pursue their passion of ballet, the tumult of hormones – internally and externally generated – will cause ructions. Clare Barron, a young U.S. writer, takes this circumstance on in what was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize of drama and reactions to the work by the State Theatre Company, its first under new director Mitchell Butel, will divide its audience. This reviewer can only think the pool for the Pulitzer last year was pretty shallow.

The work opens with great lightness and touch but the ‘pre-match’ address that came by dance Teacher Pat (Butel) was jarring; not only did it seem out of his character as we had briefly come to know it but one wondered whether the writer or the character were taking the piss and if not, what were they thinking. The reaction of the girls that followed the news that they were competing against a troupe of well-trained boys was at one level (and in days gone by) amusing but at another offensive for if the genders had been swapped there would have been outrage about toxic masculinity. (Ditto the song about pussies.)

While the aspirations of the individual dancers, seemingly as one at the start, get challenged and their potential at dance gets swamped by other factors, from a lack of talent to thoughts of to whom they will lose their virginity, but just how the girls get there is not obvious; it has just happened by the time long static scenes takes us through were they have come to.

Director Imara Savage notes that “we mustn’t forget that Dance Nation was written by a young woman in Trump’s America” and it seems increasingly that State Theatre production choices, even with a new director, target such wokeness and ideological purity even at the considerable expense of good writing. Those that seek such fare may well swoop like moths to Dance Nation’s flame but one wonders what is really there for anyone when the light goes out.

The two main actors, Yvette Lee as Amina and Chika Ikogwe as Zuzu do fine jobs and Jonathon Oxlade’s stage as a brightly coloured rehearsal room is nicely complemented by Alexander Berlage’s lighting design.

Let’s hope this isn’t the future.

Kryztoff Rating 2.5K

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