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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: The Dance Teacher loses its impact

New staging inside Club XY undermines this compelling story's effectiveness

Sometimes things are better left alone.

Last seen at the 2016 Vancouver Fringe Festival, Tomo Suru Players is presenting a remount of Gerald Williams’ The Dance Teacher. Problem is, much of what made the original production so compelling is lost in the new staging at Club XY in Vancouver’s West End.

While the story remains the same, concerning Justin, a dance teacher who is complicit in the sexual abuse of his young dance students, Williams appears to have taken a page from his terrific production of Cabaret last year in the same venue. But in an attempt to bring the action closer to the audience, something he did effectively with Cabaret, the staging for The Dance Teacher often feels forced and, at times, downright frustrating.

That frustration largely comes from eliminating what made the previous production of The Dance Teacher so effective. In its first incarnation, the show was presented simply, with characters sitting in a semi-circle around the playing area facing the audience. We saw the reactions from the other characters. It also allowed a clear access point to the various plot points.  At Club XY, the characters are seated with the audience, making it all but impossible to see these reactions, and the access points are fewer.

There are also scenes with the character’s backs to the audience. Fighting against a very loud air conditioner, we not only miss much of the dialogue, but there is something unsatisfying in only seeing one half a conversation. In fact, sightlines inside the XY space were problematic overall.

It is a shame too, because Williams’ script remains an interesting one. Unfortunately it gets lost in this second outing, as we are being pulled out of the story each time we are unable to hear, or see, what is going on.

That said, there are a few scenes that actually do work, particularly the uncomfortable confrontation and reunion of Justin (Joey Munroe) and Mr Taylor (Robert L Duncan).  In a much smaller scene, Munroe and Brad Bonnell, as potential boyfriend Maurice, are terrific together. In a third, Munroe goes up against parent Matt (Rylan Oleksyn) with nice results. What saves all of these scenes is having them play out in the central playing area where they can be both clearly heard, and seen.

The Dance Teacher, written and directed by Gerald Williams. On stage at Club XY (1216 Bute St, Vancouver) until July 22. Visit for tickets and information.

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