Festival Review: Dance Nation • Glam Adelaide

Festival Review: Dance Nation

Against the dark mirrored walls of Jonathon Oxlade’s splendid studio set, complete with ballet bars and lockers, a dance class of six girls and a boy warm up, rehearse, audition, compete, relax and contend.

By
Overall
4

Presented by State Theatre Company of South Australia and Belvoir
Reviewed 25th February, 2020

Against the dark mirrored walls of Jonathon Oxlade’s splendid studio set, complete with ballet bars and lockers, a dance class of six girls and a boy warm up, rehearse, audition, compete, relax and contend. It’s somewhere in America. The dancers are preparing for a string of regional competitions and a national final.  Playing Dance Teacher Pat, with that mixture of weariness, tungsten and pragmatism observable in all fine dance teachers, is the marvellous Mitchell Butel. And although he may seem to be front and centre of the action, playwright Clare Barron sees to it that the core of the show is all about the thirteen-year-old girls in his class.

A wonderful bunch of experienced actors play the class; they successfully embody young teens without parody or caricature. Their acting work is detailed, careful and refined. The kid with the Bloch gear, Amina (Yvette Lee) is Queen Bee – best dancer, compulsive, socially at a remove, and a perfectionist.  Zuzu (Chika Ikogwe) is romantic, dreamy, desperate to win her mother’s praise and worried about her mother’s cancer. Perky Connie (Emma Harvie), looks like a happily integrated member of the in-group, but her monologue is about a future of anti-depressants and thoughts of suicide. Luke (Tim Overton) is the tolerated boy in the class, although the girls rubbish his dance skills. Overton’s attentive stillness and focus is remarkable. Matter-of-fact, tell-it-like-it-is Maeve (Rebecca Massey) slides into a rhapsodic riff about flying. Uptight Sofia (Tara Morice with a centre part) has a personal crisis just before the troupe go onstage in a competition; she faces down disaster. Amber McMahon’s Ashlee is anarchic, inventive, energetic, and a born leader. Magical actor Elena Carapetis mostly does an assortment of dancers’ mums as and when required, using appropriate wigs and coats.  It’s like hiring Gordon Ramsey to fry an egg.

There, that’s the cast. Now for the plot. It won’t take long. Non-linear covers it. The hopes, thoughts, fears and lusts of the girls are examined in adolescent detail, with glee and suitable inappropriateness. They gossip, back-bite, whinge, confide and expound. It’s stream-of-teen-consciousness. An oddly distorted sound effect is added to Amber McMahon’s mic feed when she makes emphatic, sweeping statements. I didn’t think the effect worked well for her.  She’s a smart actor; she can manage emotional size without audio tweaks.

There is much dance, ably choreographed by Larissa McGowan. The lighting designs of Alexander Berlage are beautifully devised and realised. Likewise, Andrew Howard’s sound design.

For one-and-three-quarter hours without an interval, director Imara Savage fights (despite the script) to retain our interest in these girls and their internecine warfare. From scene to disparate scene, Savage uses snap-to-blackout and snap-up light cues to keep us lively and attentive. Her direction makes the most of the text without solving some of its inherent problems. The biggest one – how to make us actually care about these nascent young women without all that old-fashioned Aristotelian narrative horse-pucky.

Review by Pat. H. Wilson

Rating out of 5:  4 stars – Fragmentary

Venue:           Scott Theatre

Season:          21st February – 7th March, 2020

Duration:       1hr. 45 minutes

Tickets:          Prices: $79:00  / $69:00 Concession

Book:             https://my.statetheatrecompany.com.au/overview/dance-nation

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