Clare Barron’s Dance Nation, named a Pulitzer Finalist, to be performed on CU Boulder campus with a host of current and former students and faculty
Beginning Thursday on campus, the Boulder-based square product theatre will present the Colorado premiere of Clare Barron’s Dance Nation, a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the production includes at least 10 current students, alumni and faculty of the University of Colorado Boulder.
With a production team led by Los Angeles-based director Gleason Bauer and original choreography by Laura Ann Samuelson, who earned an MFA in dance from CU Boulder in 2020, the cast features a diverse, intergenerational group of actors.
Bauer says, “Dance Nation is a feral wolf howl, a primal screaming reclamation of girlhood. I couldn’t be more excited, after four long years, to be back in Colorado to direct this awkward, intimate look at the visceral power and humiliating humor of adolescence.”
The New York Times hailed Dance Nation as “blazingly original” and noted “how close what you see cuts to the bone.”
In the play, Barron depicts an army of pre-teen competitive dancers who plot to take over the world. And if their new routine is good enough, they’ll claw their way to the top at the Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay, Florida.
But in Barron’s raucous pageant of unbridled ambition and ferocity, these young dancers have more than choreography on their minds, because every plié and jeté is a step toward finding themselves, and a fight to unleash their power. Dance Nation is a play about ambition, growing up and how to find our souls in the heat of it all.
“We’ve been preparing to produce this play since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and are thrilled to finally be able to safely share this work with Colorado audiences,” says Emily K. Harrison, square product theatre producing artistic director.
Harrison earned her PhD in theatre and performance studies in 2012 and previously served as a lecturer at CU Boulder.
Dance Nation largely explores the ways in which girls are socialized to minimize themselves and their power in a performance of traditional femininity. Barron notes, “I wanted to present a different picture of teenage girls onstage. One where trauma wasn't the central narrative. One where 'being the best' was.”
Though the characters are 13 years old, they are played by actors ranging in age from 20 to 70, allowing audience members to locate themselves within the story. “The girls are played by women ranging (in age) … because the play is really about how we carry what happens to us when we're 13 through the rest of our lives,” notes Barron.
“The girls in the play are dealing with questions of who's the best, who deserves to be recognized, what to do when the system is unfair, how to be friends and compete at the same time, and how to stand up for yourself when you've been trained not to."
“The playwright calls it a ‘ghost play’ in which the older women—the women the characters become—haunt their 13-year-old bodies,” said Harrison. “In this way, we see them both as children, teetering on the absurd and fraught precipice of adulthood, and as the women they will become.”
The CU-affiliated artists in this production include:
Choreographer: Laura Ann Samuelson (MFADance‘20)
Performers: Rodrigo Gallardo-Antúnez (BFAPerformance‘22), Emily K. Harrison (PhDThtr, Performance Studies’12), former lecturer of Theatre, and Isabella Cho Jones (BFAPerformance‘24)
Designers: Jess Buttery (Thtr‘10), Emily K. Harrison (PhDThtr, Performance Studies’12), former lecturer of Theatre, and Bailey Trierweiler (BFATheatre Design & Technology‘18)
Stage manager: Rosie Glasscock (Thtr‘14)
Intimacy coordinator: Tammy Meneghini (associate professor of theatre)
Assistant director: Sarah Powers (BFAPerformance‘22)
Sound engineer: Sierra Smith (BFATheatre Design & Technology‘19)
The mission of award-winning, Boulder-based square product theatre is to engage in “radical acts of inquiry that leave an audience with just as many questions as answers.” For more information, visit their website.
The top photo of DANCE NATION is courtesy of Jay Tyson.