Clare Barron’s ferocious and gloriously funny prize-winning play Dance Nation makes its Australian debut this month at Red Stitch as part of Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Directed by Maude Davey (My Life in the Nude, Retro Futurismus), Dance Nation is described as a blazingly original play from an insanely talented playwright.
Davey, whose diverse career includes film, TV and stage, is possibly best known for her long time love affair with burlesque – many may remember her swansong, My Life in the Nude.
Davey’s reputation as a trend setter and creative builder is clear when she says that she doesn’t take on many ‘plays’ because she’s not much interested in people pretending to be other people and expecting us to believe them. Instead she prefers to create from the ground up with performers – their skills and interests – being central to the process. “Working from a page is different,” she says. I was interested to know why this one was different – what had attracted Davey as a director.
“I will admit that for the first few pages I thought Nah, I will turn this down, it’s just a satire of Dance Moms. By page 4 I was in,” she says. “This ‘play’ is savagely focussed on the female and particularly on the prepubescent female, at the moment in which the magic is starting to be knocked out of her. These girls are grappling with their own power. Clare Barron, the writer, always puts them in the centre of the frame, with their uncertainties, their doubts, their braggadocio, their yearnings.”
Dance Nation is described as a comical and excruciating look at the moment when girls become aware of their own power – and of its limits. Davey’s view is that Barron is offering hope and possibility.
“I think, in focusing on this transitional time – no longer child, not yet woman – she’s trying to ask what might be possible if these girls stepped forward and claimed themselves as deserving, as smart, as beautiful, as powerful,” she says.” It’s a really funny play, but it’s also heart breaking when it reminds us of how much damage is going to be done to these beautiful, hopeful people.”
The play has been described by some as unsettling and Davey would have it no other way!
“Unsettling? I bloody well hope so! Look, a night at the theatre isn’t going to change the world, we’re not performing heart surgery, but I do hope for a bit more than that was nice shall we have another drink. And that ‘bit more’ might look like my 18 year old daughter being inspired to love herself a little more. A mature woman being reminded that she had all that hope and wonder once and it’s not gone.”
Barron is a master at writing with economy and thrift, zest and vigour – her works literally champ at the bit with revolutionary pace.
Barron’s appeal for Davey is that everything is in the script. “It’s very clean and economical and you don’t have to do anything else! In fact if you try to add stuff it falls apart,” she says. “Actually it’s very difficult to realise because there’s a way in which everything that anchors it is underneath the text. I went into rehearsal still not knowing how we would solve some things. The play comes into focus slowly, reveals itself through the doing, through the speaking. That’s pretty special.”
For story-teller Davey, scripts that feel true and important and reveal something about the world she lives in are the preferred stimuli. “I love weird, I love bold choices, I love artists who dare! I love ‘story’ but I don’t need it. I can be delighted by a drag act as much as I can by a beautifully written play. Has this changed? Yes. These days I am more interested in telling stories in which ‘I’ am not the centre. And I think that’s age. I want to look out rather than in.”
As far as a rehearsal room goes, Davey wants one that is respectful, safe, creative, collaborative, and bold. “Everyone working on a show wants to do their best. I want people to feel like they can. I want it to be efficient – so no one feels like their time is being wasted – and I want to spend more time on the floor than sitting down talking.”
When asked what she would say to encourage an audience to attend, Davey says; “Have you seen the cast list? Come for the performances! They are doing such beautiful detailed bold wonderful work. It’s funny and it’s surprising and it’s heart breaking.”
Dance Nation, is a powerhouse of a play!
Featuring Brett Cousins, Caroline Lee, Zoe Boesen, Casey Filips, Shayne Francis, Hannah Fredericksen, Natalie Gamsu, Tariro Mavondo & Georgina Naidu
March 17 – April 4