The most popular and talked about theater in NYC tends to be the stuff playing on Broadway, such as the smash hit musicals Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen. However, what many travelers to NYC don’t realize is that some of the best, most magical theater isn’t happening on Broadway, but off it. Some of the most moving entertainment experiences often happen in smaller venues at times when you least expect them.
One smaller theatrical piece that is making a splash in NYC currently is Dance Nation, a play by playwright Clare Barron, who currently lives in Brooklyn. Dance Nation is playing at Off Broadway theater Playwright Horizons. It’s a play that tackles a host of relevant issues, including puberty, adolescence, competitive sports, friendship and bullying. If you’re looking for a play that is entertaining, funny, and engaging but also poignant, look no further than this play.
What It’s All About
Dance Nation tells the story of a competitive dance company (made up of 13-year-olds) and the inner lives and relationships of the dancers at the company. The company is rehearsing for an upcoming competition, in which they’ll present a piece about the life and times of a Gandhi. You get to watch as the process of choreographic, rehearsing and performing a competitive dance takes place. You see the pretty and the not so pretty:
One of the best parts about Barron’s play is its theatricality. The young dancers in the play are not played by actual preteens. They’re played by adult actors; some of them are in their 60s. This casting choice allows the audience to imagine the full scope of life, how we grow from unsure young people into older, wiser folks who are still shaped by our experience. It makes us consider that even the extracurricular activities of our youth that seem, perhaps, inconsequential actually shape (somewhat) the trajectory of life. It also ensures that you don’t have to watch the bad acting of preteens or younger adults trying to play preteens.
The theatricality also helps entertain and reveal the absurdity of that phase of life. The play opens with a gruesome wound for one of the dancers (with blood and all), showing that what we’re in for is certainly going to be unexpected. It’s also choreographed (beautifully) by choreographer Lee Sunday Evans. You don’t just see actors in realistic settings interacting; you see the drama played out in movement, dance and physical expression, which helps to fit in with the dance competition theme and make it visually stunning to watch.
All in all, Barron shows with Dance Nation that she is a highly imaginative playwright who can take a concept as “day-to-day” as a competitive dance team for preteens, and turn it into a highly-entertaining, funny, artistic work that makes us think about the trajectory of life, what it means to value other people and relationships, and just how messy and hard it is to manage human bodies and emotions.
It’s a great play for adults even though it’s about kids. Realistically, though, you should leave the kids at home (or the hotel) when you go see this play.
Dance Nation is one hour and 45 minutes with an intermission. It runs through July 1 at Playwrights Horizons, so make sure you get your tickets if you’re visiting during the month of June.