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Dance Nation
Dance Nation

Dance Nation
Steppenwolf Theatre
Thru - Feb 2, 2020

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Show Information

Steppenwolf Theatre

  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune- Somewhat Recommended

"...Clare Barron’s new play “Dance Nation” is set among a competitive, tween-age dance team in East Liverpool, Ohio. But the Steppenwolf Theatre, where the play opened Thursday night, has not hired a group of lucky middle-school actors. The conceit of the play, which was a finalist for 2019’s Pulitzer Prize in drama following its run at Playwrights Horizons in New York, is that adults play all of the pre-teen characters, most of whom are adolescent female members of the troupe."
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Chris Jones

Chicago Sun Times- Highly Recommended

"...The show works so well because, as writers, Erskine and Konkle have the two-decades-removed perspective to see just how small the day-to-day disasters of middle school are in the long run. And, as actors, they have the experience and emotional scars to play every situation as the absolute calamity it felt like in the moment."
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Kris Vire

Daily Herald- Highly Recommended

"...Playwright Clare Barron understands that conflict, which so often defines adolescence, that period when insecurity, passion, ambition and power roil within us when we are -- quite possibly -- our most compassionate and most ferocious selves. The prodigiously talented Barron masterfully chronicles those emotions in her 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist "Dance Nation," an insightful, fiendishly funny homage to the early adolescent still residing in all of us."
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Barbara Vitello

Chicago Reader- Highly Recommended

"...Minimalist scenic elements designed by Arnulfo Maldonado combine with the recurrent character of a mother who hovers and vanishes to complete the picture of the claustrophobia of youth, where every place you go looks approximately like all the other places you have been with slightly different lighting. And yet there is wonder in the details-the cratered and shadowed paper moon that sways and bulges onstage, the Astroturf hillside that rolls onstage like a magic carpet when a girl needs to escape, the way everyone touches Connie's lucky horse before they step onstage. Girls grow, shaped as much by the wilderness of each other as by the adults that guard and hem them in."
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Irene Hsiao

Splash Magazine- Recommended

"...The piece is a dissonant and relentless look inside the rise of dance in the popular culture; it's become a component of TV shows and streaming series, videos and concerts, advertising and films of all types, and combined with the cultural obsession with finding/rating winners (and thus, losers) in every endeavor from cooking and singing to business plans, dance has emerged from an elite art form into a business in the strip mall. Simultaneously, this has upped the ante for "real" dancers while creating misery for average kids- mostly girls, of course."
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Debra Davy

Let's Play at ChicagoNow- Somewhat Recommended

"...Dance Nation does allow us to see the mind of a teenage girl, fighting to find her self-worth and discovering their inner powers while seeking to become a woman that society will remember for more than her special parts. However, it loses out with providing a meaningful message, where one teen Ashlee played by Shanesia Davis gives a powerful proclamation of the woman she will become; however, it's laced with vulgarity and unnecessary dialogue."
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Rick and Brenda McCain

Around The Town Chicago- Highly Recommended

"...Do not let the name of this play fool you. "Dance nation" written by Claire Barron is not a musical show, but is in fact about dancers. Thirteen year old female dancers to be exact. Working hard to win a title for their dance teacher ( played by Tim Hopper ) on the floor of the Upstairs Theatre at Steppenwolf. This is their "black Box" venue that can change with each production ( and does )! In this production, the audience sits on two sides with the action being in the middle, on the floor rather than a stage, allowing us to look down at them."
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Alan Bresloff

NewCity Chicago- Somewhat Recommended

"...As the piece goes on, it gets more and more challenging to make meaning of its weirdness. While I'm still game, for the most part, and the play has earned my attention, there are critical moments when intention is lost, particularly when female genitalia becomes a stand-in for feminine power. In our still cis-normative theatrical landscape, I want our bold, unapologetic and otherwise radically inclusive feminist plays to consider how they might be centering the experience of cis-women to the exclusion of others who might absolutely find a home in this play."
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Erin Shea Brady

Chicago Theatre Review- Recommended

"...Clare Barron has written a powerful play about tween-age girls coming of age, but it’s a comic drama that may shock more conservative audience members. There’s nothing left uncensored in this production, which is boldly directed and choreographed by Lee Sunday Evans. The play’s fragmented structure feels choppy and is sometimes confusing. As always, this Steppenwolf ensemble cast is stellar and features nine talented actors, all between the age twenty and seventy. Each character must navigate his or her own journey through the rough waters of puberty, peer pressure and various personal problems that will, eventually, lead them into the shaky land of young adulthood. But be warned: this isn’t an expedition for the faint of heart."
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Colin Douglas

Chicagoland Theater Reviews- Somewhat Recommended

"...Barron's 2018 play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for drama, and her writing skills are undeniable. But issues of focus undercut the show. Not enough emotional dots are connected as the individual scenes flow by. The device of casting roles outside the chronological box is interesting but I'm not sure it is all that effective. What could have been a fascinating and instructive group portrait actually seems like a loose collection of individual snapshots. A consumer warning to adults who wonder if their 13-year old girls are mature enough to find this portrait of their peers a useful dramatic experience. Be aware that there are strong words and images in "Dance Nation" that had even adult viewers at my performance gasping."
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Dan Zeff Highly Recommended

"...The students struggle through insecurities, personal issues, and the competitive challenges - but are generally bonded as a mutually supportive group. Barron also affords those flashes in scenes in which we can see laid out before us the promise of a young person who is destined to achieve great things in life."
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Bill Esler

Third Coast Review- Recommended

"...Caroline Neff as Zuzu and Karen Rodriguez as Amina give warm and emotional performances. Shanesia Davis as Ashlee has a long monologue about her female perfection. Davis performs it well, but the content is over-the-top and off-key for a 13-year-old. Ellen Maddow as Maeve (a cast member in the original Dance Nation at Playwrights Horizons in New York), is one of the older cast members. In a poignant scene, she describes flying-in her bedroom, any room, down the stairs, sometimes across the Great Lakes, if she just concentrates. "It sort of washes over me. Like sleep.... And suddenly I'm flying.""
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Nancy Bishop

The Hawk Chicago- Recommended

"...Dance Nation is not the easy adolescent comedy that some audiences would be more comfortable with. Yet by leaning into the discomfort, Barron transports us back into that period of in-between and encourages us to reflect on how we became who we are today. Barron said that in writing the play, she hoped "that an audience will remember things about their 13-year-old selves that they had forgotten [....]" Through its characters laughter, pain, and passion, Dance Nation undoubtedly achieves that goal. (Emily Schmidt)"
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Emily Schmidt

Chicago On Stage- Highly Recommended

"...As Dance Nation immerses its characters in the problems and issues of youth, it also doesn't let the audience off easily. Though Barron often employs humor in her play, that humor far too often derives from pain. This begins right at the start, when frightened or nervous dancers walk right by one of their compatriots who is lying on the floor, significantly injured. The moments elicit laughter, but it is the kind that comes from the same place that the dancers are coming from: not knowing quite how to react to something very uncomfortable. We are left recognizing that we shouldn't have laughed in the first place. And maybe that is one of the things Barron wants us all to remember: this time of life was never easy. Remember that next time you get upset with your middle schooler."
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Karen Topham

Picture This Post- Recommended

"...DANCE NATION has a lurid wackiness that, in this reviewer's opinion, might not appeal to all tastes. Girls discovering the power of their pussies is a very big theme. The heartless ignoring of physical and emotional injuries is constant. Departures from reality come without explanation. But there's no doubt about the bigness of DANCE NATION's vision. Gripped by nature, the young people onstage are starting life with a shriek."
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Susan Lieberman

Rescripted- Recommended

"...Dance Nation is a femme-forward celebration of self that asks us to throw out the rules we know in favor a wild ride. It gives us the opportunity to look at how far we have come, with a hopeful glimpse into what lies ahead."
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Arti Ishak