If you're only here for the news, then I'll just get right to it. WET's production of Dance Nation rules. The play runs through Feb 3 at 12th Ave Arts, and it will appeal to anyone who's ever dedicated themselves to a marginal art, anyone whose life has been shaped by contradictory standards, and anyone who enjoys the random, gut-splitting humor of delirious, pre-show locker room chatter.
The Pulitzer-nominated play, written by Wenatchee playwright Clare Barron, has a simple plot. A preteen dance troupe is gunning for the national title under the guidance of their frazzled coach, Dance Teacher Pat. When it comes time to pick the dancer who will lead the troupe to glory, the friendship between the star dancer, Amina, and the second-best dancer, Zuzu, begins to unravel in a tragic but completely inevitable way as the other dancers begin to reassess the role dance plays in their lives.
The play shares a number of thematic similarities with the greatest Netflix documentary ever made, Cheer, so if you blew through that series last week, Dance Nation can serve as a way to prolong your newfound obsession with the way extreme competition completely wrecks and yet also helpfully directs the lives of American youths.
In fact, both shows contain almost the exact same scene. Just before performing their cheerful routine at the national competition in Cheer, our Navarro squad stands in a circle and screams the Serenity Prayer at the top of their lungs as if they were preparing for war. And in Dance Nation, a half dozen dancers tear into an unbridled chant about killing their competition just before performing a number that celebrates Gandhi's legacy of nonviolent resistance.
The disconnect between the ethical principles each art form supposedly promotes and the nearly murderous and almost certainly self-destructive process required to produce the art in the first place is, above all else, hilariously funny, but it also points to the insanity at the root of the art world. People sacrifice so much of themselves—their friendships, their bodies, their futures—for the sake of producing a simulacrum of the very life they're ruining. Both Dance Nation and Cheer show how competition—particularly the glitzy, corporate, American versions—strip art of its redemptive qualities and replaces them with the hollow thrill of the trophy.
Barron weaves that critique into an incredible monologue about the legacy of the greatest dancer in the program's history, who won nationals and then "six years later she was dancing in the chorus of a Broadway show," as if dancing in a chorus line of a Broadway show were a goal worth sacrificing literally the tiniest fraction of your own personal happiness, comfort, or financial stability.
And yet Barron's show also shows the way dance—and by extension theater, or literature—creates a necessary space where people can try on different selves and practice dealing with all the bullshit life outside the stage will throw at them. Co-directors Bobbin Ramsey and Alyza DelPan-Monley and scenic/lighting designer Tristan Roberson highlight that aspect of the show through casting and scenic elements. Though the characters are all supposed to be preteens, the actors are women (and one guy) of all ages, suggesting that women will have to deal with all the double standards they face in the dance world throughout their entire lives. The giant mirror that spans the length of the entire stage reflects the whole audience, implicating us as creators of these double standards and including us as victims. Who is this "society" perpetuating these oppressive contradictions on young people, if not us?
Aside from offering plenty of Big Ideas to consider, Dance Nation also features a bunch of incredible performances. Maggie L. Rogers demonstrated perfect comedic timing as Maeve. Her understated delivery stole every scene she was in, and now that she's WET's new co-captain I can't wait to see her in more stuff. Hannah Victoria Franklin absolutely nailed the special suburban intensity exhibited by dance moms. Her roles are small, but they're some of the most memorable in the show. I spent the rest of the night after the show telling random strangers that their crockpot was at my house. You'll get that joke later. Sofía Raquel Sánchez, who played Amina, was magnetic as ever, though they occasionally dipped into a trembling melodramatic mode that seemed a little too effortful. And Rheanna Atendido's energetic turn as Zuzu kept the show lively, and offered an upbeat tonal contrast to Sánchez's studied graces.
Anyway, go see it! Get your dang ticket!