By Beulah F. Vega
Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre closes out their 2021/2022 season with Clare Barron’s Dance Nation. Barron’s darkly comedic look at the trials and tribulations of a preteen competitive dance troupe trying to get to the nationals while navigating puberty, an overbearing coach and changing friendships runs through June 19.
First-time director Paige Picard does a great job of casting this unique show that calls for adults to play adolescents. Her multi-generational and multicultural performers are an indication of keen casting skills and promise as a director, but Dance Nation is a difficult type of script to do well, even for an experienced director. It can be a challenge to maintain pacing and momentum when time is not in a linear structure, and poor pacing here makes for an uneven show that sometimes drags and sometimes soars.
The soaring is mostly attributable to Serena Elize-Flores (Ashley) and Rosie Frater (Sofia). Both actors’ charisma and professionalism are on full display. Not only do they execute their scenes with depth and enthusiasm, but they also elevate the other actors.
Elize-Flores commands the stage with a monologue that manages to find the impossible balance between the youth of her character and the deep conflicting emotions of a girl transitioning into womanhood. Her timing is pitch-perfect, and the use of every vulgar word in the English language stuffed into one sentence manages to endear instead of offend. Frater boldly tackles a scene that deals with the often uncomfortable but real emotions prevalent when being the first of her friends to get her period.
Regielyn Padua gives an earnest (if sometimes shouty) performance as Zuzu, the chief dance rival to Abbey Lee’s company star, Amina. Caitlin Strom-Martin is wasted in the roles of various moms, but her Vanessa is hilarious. Sam Minnifield (Luke) is fearless as the only male dancer in the troupe. Eshani More (Connie) is hard to hear, but her earnestness comes through. The play also features Mike Pavone as dance teacher Pat and Kimberly Kalember as Maeve.
Both a nostalgic call back to millennial girlhood and a commentary on the price of a woman’s power, this play, though uneven, is still worth one’s time. See this show for some amazing performances and fierce choreography.
‘Dance Nation’ runs through June 19 at Left Edge Theatre. 50 Mark West Springs Rd, Santa Rosa. Thu-Sat, 7pm; Sun, 2pm. $15–$44. Show recommended for ages 15 + due to strong language, adult situations and nudity. Proof of vaccination required to attend. Masking is requested. 707.546.3600. leftedgetheatre.com