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‘I WANT TO HEAL THE WORLD THROUGH DANCE’ – A Review Of TG’s ‘Dance Nation’ by Clare Barron

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Leeds chapter.

‘Dance Nation’ got me. It got my stomach hurting from laughter. It got me crying. It grabbed my mind, unfolded it right on the stage in front of me, showed me a reel of my life, then bandaged it back up, placed it in a cosy blanket, and re-inserted it back in my head. It understood me. I might have to double check Barron doesn’t have a camera hidden in my bedroom…

Last week I was invited to TG’s version of ‘Dance Nation’, a play about a tween dance crew and their insane, anal dance teacher, ‘Pat’, as they embark on a journey of identity and dance. I was already excited to see this show long before I was asked to review it, not only because of their amazing Instagram led by Libby Murray, but because of the company’s commitment to providing true diversity in the casting, an issue that is so important and as I have mentioned before in my reviews has been overlooked by other student societies in Leeds.

The play shows the ins and outs of adolescence, struggles with imposter syndrome, crushes, puberty, family pressures and that sweet spot of tween-hood, where you’re old enough to realise what is going on in the world around you, but you’re so desperate to cling onto that childhood imagination. Directed by some of Leeds University’s finest: Marnie Tiga-Prentice, Ben Greenwood, and Charlotte Hunter, ‘Dance Nation’ proves that Leeds University’s theatre realm is unrivalled.

Immediately as I walked into Stage@Leeds, I was fully immersed in a dance studio eerily similar to the one I used to do ballet and tap in myself. No detail was overlooked by the producing team, from the posters on the wall reading ‘Eat Sleep Dance Repeat’, to the amalgamation of the dancer’s personalities visible via the stickers on their lockers, the dance mats, the water cooler and even procuring a gym vault directly placed the audience in the world of the play, being both visually striking and realistic.

Starting the play, we watched the dance Liverpool dance company perform their opening dance… as sailors to Stormzy’s hit ‘Big Michael’. All dances in the show were choreographed by the excellent Jess Fordwoh, the company’s movement director, and she deserves insane recognition for how funny the dancing was throughout. The movement was the most perfect portrayal of tween dancing, where they take everything so seriously, yet to music so inappropriate for a tween audience base. Each dancer was in-sync, and the performances were polished, proving the strength of this overall ensemble once more. Shoutout to my favourite dance – ‘Push the Button’ by the Sugababes.

Some highlights of the performance were referencing the ‘Dance Mom’s’ pyramid of success, with our dancers placed from best to worst on a pyramid on a whiteboard (great job producers). Additionally, Malachy O’Callaghan’s portrayal of ‘Dance Teacher Pat’ cannot go unmentioned. O’Callaghan embodied the role of the melodramatic dance teacher, through their physicality and particularly through their monologue before their competition routine, highlighting melodrama and hyperbole as staples in the world of dance.

I think O’Callaghan’s portrayal of ‘Dance Teacher Pat’ might be my dance teacher’s reincarnation… (once my dance teacher stopped me mid-lesson so I could go to the vending machine for him. It’s no surprise I am most definitely not a dancer today.)

Saranya Anandraj’s ‘Connie’ was beautiful. Not only through their portrayal of a demure, unconfident young woman but through their portrayal of invisibility as an Indian woman in a stereotypically white space. Anandraj’s final monologue had me so emotional- I have never felt so seen. The direction provided by Tiga Prentice, Greenwood and Hunter navigated Connie and Ashlee away from the dance studio and moved us to a new adult conversation about depression and twin souls suffering unnoticed. This conversation is one I’ve had one too many times with my girl friends, and Anandraj’s acting and connection with Charlotte Pine, Ashlee, cemented it in my memory as one of the most magical pieces of theatre I’ve seen.

This version of the show deserves a professional run – and I think every woman who is lost should watch it. It made me cry, laugh, and ‘wish my soul was as perfect as my pussy’.

Edited by: Ella Morris

I am a Communication and Media Student at the University of Leeds, who enjoys writing about Taylor Swift, Feminism, and Theatre!