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Review of LUU Theatre Group’s Dance Nation


Stage One theatre was full to the brim on Saturday night as we all piled in to see the closing night of Theatre Group’s Dance Nation. My excitement at seeing the theatre society’s final show of the year had been building ever since the team behind Dance Nation had begun releasing their perfectly curated headshots and promo photos the week before (Credit to Amber Constantine, Max Brown and Amelie Cooke for these beauties). Other than these funky images, I had little knowledge about the play I was about to watch. More than anything I was hoping for a giggle to brighten my dissertation-deadline dominated day.


And giggle I did. From the moment Stormzy’s ‘Big Michael’ came blasting over the speakers and the cast pranced around the stage in sailor costumes I was hooked. The play transported us to a dance school where a group of young teenagers were being whipped into shape by their ever so serious dance teacher for an upcoming competition. The audience bore witness to family tensions, jealousy, schoolboy crushes, puberty, sexual fantasies, objectification, and loss of childlike innocence all in it’s one act.

 

I was instantly impressed by the care taken by producers James Barr and Louisa Walsh in creating the set. Flanked by dance mats, a water cooler, whiteboard and even two swings, careful curation had even been put in to the minutest of details. Each character having a corresponding locker decorated with their names and interests while the walls were covered in dance motivation and class photos. The production of the show as a whole was executed extremely professionally with music, lighting, and costume each complementing each other and the narrative in a way which only sought to further transport the audience into the world of the play.

 

Given the premise of the play, I had been intrigued to the level of dance which would be used throughout. I thought movement director Jess Fordwoh (who even doubled up as the injured Vanessa in the beginning sequence) was extremely clever when tackling this element. Each dance was engaging and highly polished but allowed for a sense of individuality to be maintained in each character’s performance. I really felt like each actor enjoyed the dances and this meant the routines contrasted perfectly with the issues happening in the rest of the play. You truly believed that despite dance teacher Pat’s (Malachy O’Callaghan) gruelling, each continued to dance because of the joy it brought them. There was clearly careful construction by both Fordwoh and directors Ben Greenwod, Marnie Tiga Prentice and Charlotte Hunter which meant that the dance sequences neither dominated nor distracted from the rest of the play. Instead blending seamlessly into the overall performance.

 


It was clear how much time Greenwood and Tiga Prentice had spent on characterisation as each individual dancer’s personality shone through. Their stellar direction had also created the perfect balance of highs and lows as we were taken from giggly scenes about masturbating to depictions of self-harm and insecurity. This made the narrative and performance come across as extremely human and the ease at which the play flowed and navigated these difficult topics is a testament to their directing.

 

 

Superb performances were offered all round with the eight strong cast. Luke Nolan offered us a wide-eyed and awkward Luke, trying to navigate his first crush and being the only boy at the dance school. Elana Lewis shone as loud and confident Sofia whose façade slips as she locks herself in the toilet to scrub her first period out of her tights. Saranya Anandraj played the often overlooked but beloved Connie with a paired back surety and style. Indigo Wong gave us the goofy half-dressed Maeve who beautifully captured childhood innocence, describing how sometimes she feels she is flying around rooms and down staircases. The talented twosome of Tanatswa Ericks’ Zulu and Sara Sheikh’s Amina headed off against each other as best friends turned almost rivals as they both chase their dance dreams. Ericks’ and Sheikh’s polished performances contrasted each other perfectly as they navigated their character’s friendship against a backdrop of jealousy. You clearly understood both character’s feelings and frustrations and were rooting for each of them despite Amina usurping Zulu’s solo.


Despite having little role in the overall narrative, O’Callaghan managed to shine through with his satirised dance teacher Pat who was intent on pushing the dancers in any way he could and leading vocal chants about using dance to end world hunger. I thought his caricatured acting contrasted brilliantly with the rest of the cast as the audience were left feeling like we were viewing him through young people’s eyes. And of course a special mention has to be offered to his tracksuit. My ears are still ringing from the whooping it provoked.

 

For me, the show was stolen by Charlotte Pine as the confident Ashlee who delivered a fleabag style monologue halfway through the play declaring how much she loved her body and how great she believed herself to be at thirteen. Despite its humour the monologue was littered with experiences of male objectification and insecurity which I felt Pine navigated beautifully. It felt like Ashlee was baring her soul on stage as she worked through the mess of emotions that come with being thirteen. Pine perfectly captured the way, at that age, you feel like you know everything and yet you know nothing at all.

 

Overall, this was the message Greenwood and Tiga Prentice worked to leave us with. I was reminded of the messy, funny and sad world we live in as young teenagers and continue to live in now. It explored the loss of childhood dreams but retained a profound hopefulness at the messy way you get through. As I left the theatre, I felt motivated to approach things with a bit more fun and hey, maybe even a little more dance. And that is a testament to the hard work and talent of all the cast and crew.


Words by Julia Brookes she/her

Images by Julian Tong, he/him

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