Almeida Theatre, London – until 6 October 2018
Clare Barron’s play Dance Nation at the Almeida not only sees life through the female lens, it touches on subjects that are generally treated as taboo. On one level it’s a play about a dance troupe of 13-year-olds (six girls and one boy) preparing for a big competition and the rivalry between the two strongest dancers Amina (Karla Crome) and Zuzu (Ria Zmitrowicz).
It follows their friendships, arguments and how they cope with the pressure to perform. But underneath it is a play that speaks for women of all ages, exploring female sexuality and the female experience in contemporary western society.
It sets out its stall in having the girls played by women of all ages, performances which could be comical if handled wrong but there is nothing pastiche here. Instead, they are perfectly pitched to straddle tween innocence and adult experience. The dialogue is perfectly pitched too, showing innocent ambition and expectations alongside the emotional and psychological growing pains as they step towards adulthood.
It is a time for them of sexual awakening and exploration – yes they talk about periods and masturbation (hurray!) – but also a waking up to society’s expectations and stereotypes.
In one particularly pertinent speech, Ashlee (Kayla Meikle) celebrates her body, her sex and intellect and the realisation of its power – but it is a power that is curtailed because women aren’t supposed to think and talk like that. It’s a reminder of the many contradictions a patriarchal society places on women; it dives more deeply beneath the surface of #metoo.
There is plenty of fun and humour in the more child-like observations and some toe-tapping routines as well as important messages about the pressures and expectations placed on children in these competitive environments.
It all adds up to make a play that is entertaining, powerful and refreshingly broad and detailed in its female narrative. I’m giving it five stars.