STAGE REVIEW: Dance Nation - A window on modern America

PUBLISHED: 14:00 14 September 2018

Dance Nation at the Almeida Theatre, London. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Dance Nation at the Almeida Theatre, London. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Archant

The award winning play fails to live up to the hype, says Tim Walker.

The first thing to be said about Clare Barron’s Dance Nation is that it isn’t going to get you boogying in the aisles. The title suggests an upbeat song and dance extravaganza with a jaunty, attractive, young cast, some big, bold numbers and maybe even a few chuckles along the way.

It is true there are some parallels to be made with A Chorus Line – the Broadway hit in which a series of dancers get to talk about their backstage trials and tribulations – but it hasn’t that show’s great redeeming feature of some bold, stirring numbers and any of the sense of feelgood that engendered.

This feels like the same show, only set in a home for manic depressives. Everyone is putting on a brave face, but no-one is remotely happy. This is feelbad rather than feelgood theatre.

In a grim little dance studio in an American flyover state, a tyrannical teacher named Pat – Brendan Cowell – bullies and cajoles a motley group of dancers. The emphasis is on their agony rather than their ecstasy.

The show has what amounts to age-blind casting in that some members of Pat’s class are played by actors who are getting on a bit. All well and good in normal circumstances, but not so practical when the dance routines are quite so strenuous.

The troupe consists of six girls and a boy named Luke, who is played by Irfan Shamji. There is the natural star in Amina – Karla Crome – and then there is Zuzu (Ria Zmitrowicz) who, unable to cope with always being second best, is driven to some acts of self-harm that are enacted in unsparing detail. They are all trying to put on a dance show about Gandhi – an inherently comical idea – but the problem is it keeps going off on tangents.

There are long conversations among the cast about issues such as masturbation and how they feel about their private parts, which, for all I know, may well take place in dance studios when there isn’t an audience out there, but it isn’t really the sort of thing that puts most theatre-goers at their ease or adds much to the sum of human knowledge.

The cast do what they can with it and the director Bijan Sheibani and choreographer Aline David have put on a version of the show that is as faithful to the original work as possible. It all keeps, too, to the plucky little Almeida Theatre’s remit to dare to be different and to put on unexpected works.

This particular piece has won awards and certainly has its admirers and I know only too well that the way to make myself sound clever as a critic is to drone on about how this is a window into the American psyche at a time of great change, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye, and it’s all very brave and bold etc.

Only that wouldn’t be to acknowledge that it is fundamentally a very boring piece of theatre, it doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s often quite frankly just plain embarrassing, and, all in all, it makes you wish you had stayed at home.

Dance Nation is playing at the Almeida Theatre, London, until October 6.

You've seen the news, now discover the story

The New European is committed to providing in-depth analysis of the Brexit process, its implications and progress as well as celebrating European life.

Try 13 weeks for £13

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest Articles

Podcast

ANTI-BREXIT EVENTS

Grassroots anti-Brexit campaigners are increasing the pressure on politicians ahead of a series of important votes this year. Here is a list of the events organised across Britain in the coming weeks and months.

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

The New European weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy