116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — “The Good Ship Lollipop” has sailed into the sunset.
“Dance Nation” begins with the cast tapping to “Sea Cruise” in jaunty sailor suits — the girls in blue skirts with red and white trim, and the lone boy in pants — with everyone sporting sailor hats and huge smiles.
Then the faces of innocence go away, never to return in this biting look at adolescent sniping, scheming, camaraderie and competition, playing through April 3 in the Grandon Studio at Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE.
What: “Dance Nation”
Where: Grandon Studio, lower level at Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
When: Through April 3; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $27 adults, $12 students, theatrecr.org/event/dance-nation/2022-03-24/
Playwright Clare Barron made the critically correct call in asking for adult actors to rediscover their preteen energy to wrap their mouths around very adult language coming out of tween mouths and edgy experiences.
This show is not appropriate for young viewers. It’s more R than PG-13. But for adults, it’s wickedly funny, yet heartbreaking when the kids give us glimpses of what probably is happening behind the scenes at home.
Director Angie Toomsen and choreographer Megan Robinson have shaped a sensational production that not only shows off the actors’ mad dance skills, but also the nuances they need to embody the mind, soul and spirit of their characters, without making them caricatures.
Scenic designer Jason Blue Herbert has transformed the little black box theater into the lavender Liverpool Dance Works — as in Liverpool, Ohio, not England — complete with a beautiful wooden dance floor and movable mirrors, all illuminated with E. Haywood’s fun and funky lighting design.
The 10 students at the dance studio — nine girls and one boy — are preparing for competition season, where the stakes are high and nationals are just one month away. How badly do they want to win? They’ll do anything for a victory.
Dance Teacher Pat (Jessica Link) is the task master/cheerleader demanding their full attention to detail and stirring up rancor in the ranks when she announces auditions for the solos. Amina (Megan Robinson) is more technically skilled than the others, but one of the dance moms (Erin Lauer) says she doesn’t dance with heart.
Heart is hard to find in this group, as they pick at each other, fight, make up, fight, make up, and in the locker room, discuss all the bodily changes they’re experiencing. Full of insecurities, they try to bolster each other in their quest for validation, but end up tearing down alliances.
As they slither across the floor in a serpentine dance, we begin to hear their inner monologues, some of which will make the audience writhe.
Much of the locker room talk — and even some on the dance floor when stern Dance Teacher Pat isn’t there — will make the audience writhe. A nice shot of humor comes at Luke’s expense, when this hapless lone boy (Matthew James) is stuck amid the girls exploring their sex talk. James embodies Luke’s bewilderment in the sweetest ways.
Jordan Arnold is hilarious as Maeve, who is obsessed with wolves and declares she wants to do “something cosmic” with her life. She can turn her emotions on and off in a flash, and soars through a very imaginative flight of fancy.
All of the performances are strong in their underlying fragility, but a special nod goes to Robinson. As Amina, she fights fire from the others as she tries to do the right thing without alienating her friends, who really are more like frenemies at that age.
When she does find her power, she muscles through electrifying choreography for the win.
“Dance Nation” is mesmerizing from beginning to end, and will keep viewers on their toes.
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