“Dance Nation,” a dance-theater production directed by Erin Gorski, an adjunct professor in the department, made its debut on Dec. 3 at Montclair State University’s Life Hall Studio Theatre.
Originally created by Clare Barron, “Dance Nation” tells the story of 13-year-old competitive dancers as they prepare to climb their way to the top in Gandhi style at Nationals in Tampa Bay. But it’s more than choreography for these young dancers because, through dance movements, they’re one step closer to uncovering their true selves and recognizing the power they hold.
It’s essentially an unorthodox coming-of-age play that takes on the complexities endured between childhood (specifically girlhood) and adulthood, which Gorski expanded upon.
“It is about the struggle to find and hold onto your voice in a world that often seeks to compartmentalize and break you down,” Gorski said. “It is about devotion to a craft and the pursuit of greatness.”
The almost two-hour performance is saturated with a roller coaster of emotions as the double cast of characters, Lavender cast and Chartreuse cast, wrestle with several topics such as jealousy, self-doubt, sex, masturbation, suicide, menstruation, love (especially “firsts”), cancer and sexual assault.
Through powerful scenes and dance numbers complemented by iconic music like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics, a mix of “Zoo Girl” by M.I.A and Nicki Minaj’s verse from “Monster,” “Dance Nation” is designed to leave audience members with a sense of joy while recalling the dreams of their own youth.
Heather Alzapiedi, a senior acting major in the Lavender cast, spoke more on the show’s relation to urges and how it felt to be a part of the performance.
“This show has every secret, impulsive desire I think everyone has deep down to just be absolutely uninhibited and it embraces and celebrates those impulses,” Alzapiedi said. “The ‘Zoo Girl/Monster’ number represents the dancers taking control and taking the power back from a toxic leader, and it’s also just everything – I feel like I could conquer the world after I do that number; it’s really exhilarating.”
Arianna Marmol, a sophomore BFA acting major who’s also in the Lavender cast, portrays Zuzu, a girl with quiet desperation who is given a solo by Dance Teacher Pat, played by Louis Bose. But the newfound spotlight becomes her personal tragedy, and she begins to question whether or not she can live up to her own expectations, her mother’s and teammates’, especially her friend and star dancer of the team, Amina, portrayed by Alzapiedi.
When taking on this play, Marmol recognized a lot of connected paths between herself and the character of Zuzu.
“She reminds me so much of my younger self that it hurts,” Marmol said. “I see her like I would see a younger sister or even a daughter. I just want to give her a hug and tell her it’s okay and that I know she’s trying her best.”
Marmol further explained that Zuzu is playing a crucial role in her individual growth.
“For me, Zuzu is allowing me to truly help the inner child in myself heal and be the person I wish I had when I was reaching my teen years,” Marmol said.
Tinged with immersiveness and moments of elation, the minute use of props and dramatic lighting no doubt had the audience in awe as they observed the actors performing with extremely raw emotion.
From vulnerable monologues to literal bloodthirsty dance numbers, everything was bared.
Samantha Horvath, a freshman acting major, appreciated the beauty and uncomfortableness brought forth.
“There are a lot of moments that the characters talk about that people everywhere can relate to,” Horvath said. “I think embracing your life and who you are but also making sure you can embrace life with others is the biggest lesson of it all.”
And of course, a production like this, not to mention the double cast, would not be possible without all hands on deck, as emphasized by Gorski.
“I was very lucky to have such a talented and committed cast and production, endlessly supportive of one another,” Gorski said. “They approached the situation as a true ensemble with no egos—just pure commitment to storytelling and the needs of the production. I would be honored to work with any and all of them again, and as a cast, I think they can overcome anything.”
With a more than competent cast and crew, “Dance Nation” truly does take the emotional turmoil of adolescence and triumphantly transforms it into something beautiful yet bizarre and profoundly relatable.