Fresno puts a spin on the powerful ‘teenage’ drama ‘Dance Nation.’ Here are 5 Things to Know before it debuts.
A few weeks ago I told you about an upcoming major moment for UR Here Theatre: its first fully staged production. The company opens the 2018 play “Dance Nation” at Fresno’s Cal Arts Severance theater on Friday, Sept. 16, and runs through Sept. 24. The play brings us a group of competitive teenagers, mostly girls, who make it into a national dance championship, sharing their stories along the way. From the pedigree of the play and the creative team and cast involved, it sounds like a must-see.
Here are Five Things You Need to Know:
The premise sounds like it’s geared toward kids. It isn’t.
The 13-year-olds in the play, for one thing, are played by adults. In the Fresno production, the actors range in age from 28 to 58. Recommended for mature audiences (for graphical sexual language), the play addresses teen and sub-teen issues of sexuality, diet, ambition, suicide, pubescent reality testing, brutality of adolescence, ambition, and aging.
The unorthodox play conveys the joy and abandon of dancing, alongside the memories of growing up which live in the body and of the body.
The playwright brings an interesting backstory to the project.
Barron explains: “I was raised in a conservative, Christian community that told me that if I had sex before marriage I would go to hell.” It took years for her to “undo that knot” and shake off the shame she associated with sex — something her writing has helped with.
Director Ruth Griffin was overwhelmed when she first read the play.
Griffin, a theater and dance professor at Fresno State, writes: “The sufferings of the girls and their stories, at times shocking, unsettled me. However, as I delved more deeply into the play, I understood the playwright’s agenda of transformation. I fell in love with the girls and the team’s only boy, Luke.”
For Griffin, the play includes touches of farce, epic, realism, magical realism, solo performance, tribalism and ritual.
“I love the freedom of not being in an institution and working with people from our community,” she says.
“Dance Nation” stands on the shoulders of a progression of feminist art and performance art.
The play is dedicated to Joyce Aiken, a professor emerita of art at Fresno State, who took over the feminist art program developed by Judy Chicago.
Griffin says she sees in “Dance Nation” the footprints of Chicago’s “Dinner Party” (1979), Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” (1996), and Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ “Women Who Run with the Wolves” (1992). The contributions of Aiken, who was given a lifetime achievement award in 2001 by the Women’s Caucus of Art, helped cement Fresno’s own place in feminist art history.
A strong cast and creative team are good signs.
The cast includes many familiar local theater veterans: Nwachukwu, Tracy Hostmyer, Camille Gaston, Haley Wallace, Anand Purewal, Haley White, Jared Serpa, Karina Balfour and Mason T. Beltram. Chris Mangels is technical director and is handling scenic and costume design. Ajay Davis is sound designer.
PLUS: Win a pair of tickets to ‘Dance Nation’
Opening weekend performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. You can win a pair of tickets.
The contest is open to members, donors and individual sponsors of The Munro Review. I’m giving away two pairs of tickets.
Tax-deductible memberships start at $5 a month, and you can make a one-time donation of as little as $3. (Paid memberships help keep the site running, and paid members get special members-only benefits. Please consider a paid membership in support of independent, local arts journalism.) A free membership option is available.
For details on how to join, go to the Membership and Sponsorship page. No purchase, donation or membership is necessary to enter the ticket giveaway.
To enter the giveaway, leave a reply on this post answering this question: Did you ever compete in a dance competition? (Or just say you’d like the tickets.) Leave your entry in the comment field below. Deadline to enter is 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16. The winner will be picked at random and notified by email.
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