Adelaide Festival 2020: Dance Nation

Photo Credit: Chris Herzfeld

Who: State Theatre Company of South Australia

Where: Scott Theatre in the University of Adelaide

When: 26 Feb – 7 Mar

How much: $39 – $79

Dance Nation brings in the State Theatre Company’s 2020 season with this energetic and wild production about prepubescent teens striving for perfection in their dance troupe, somewhere in the USA.

When Zuzu is chosen to inhibit the spirit of Ghandi in the competition number, the pressure is on. Battling imposter syndrome, she spirals into self-doubt as others in the group struggle with their own insecurities. It’s safe to say that this dark comedy takes an unexpected turn, as these naïve and blossoming dancers are swept up in madness and power. 

One of the ways Dance Nation proves itself as important theatre is how it portrays the stages of maturity amongst girls that age. Some begin to mature physically and emotionally earlier than others, and some continue their childlike fantasies of latent puberty. As relationships within their group begin to splinter, so does their teamwork, threatening their all-important dance routine.

The crew losing control in rehearsals are weaved with moments of locker room banter amongst the mainly 13-year-old girls, which as you can imagine, is just as crude as it is hilarious. The main dance number within the show brought tears of laughter from the audience, and my face was aching with the smile I had throughout.

The show has no typecasting, with the cast being inclusive of age and size, as opposed to casting small young women. This choice represents how memories formed at that age continue to be carried with you into later life. 

Some of the highlight performances were Chika Ikogwe, at the helm of the cast as Zuzu, and the fiery and rambunctious Ashlee, portrayed by Amber McMahon. The company also welcomed Australian dance screen icon Tara Morice from Strictly Ballroom and Dance Academy, as the playful Sofia.

Dance Teacher Pat is played by the new artistic director of State Theatre SA, Mitchell Butel, delivering the intensity and ferocity that accompanies this pre-teen dance world. 

The costume design of Dance Nation is really fun, with floral headbands, tassels, and sequins galore. Additionally, the lighting within the deceptively simple mirrored rehearsal room matched the vibrancy and energy the actors were emanating.

Dance Nation is one of the more fun and energetic productions by the State Theatre Company I’ve seen in recent years, potentially since Sense and Sensibility in 2018. This breath of fresh air excites me for the 2020 season of theatre ahead.

If you can forgive the male connotation, Dance Nation is ballsy theatre. Prepare to have the Pussycat Dolls in your head for the rest of the night and get along to this fierce and powerful production.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Milly Farmer

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