The Place Prize Semi-Final 2010

Image credit: Alexandrina HemsleyImage credit: Alexandrina Hemsley

Write, write, write, write…Right…Here goes. After 4 years of dillydallying my way through the London dance scene, watching performances that have inspired, disappointed, made me think or even better, simply made me smile, I have wanted to write something down. Up until now, inklings of reviewer-ish thoughts have remained private or half-articulated with friends who can complete my sentences anyway.

So I return to my first line: write, write, write, write. About what? A piece? A situation? Dare I say, a state of mind?? Having traversed the entire Victoria Line twice in one day to get to and from some work (note a dancerly use of the word ‘traverse’), I felt my duty calling to see the first of four semi-finals that are hosted by the local Powerhouse of Contemporary Dance (by the by, every neighborhood should have one). On the way, I thought to myself that the evening of work could not only refresh my “I did full time dance training, saw a lot of work to varying degrees of satisfaction and so I am now highly cynical but appreciate outbursts of brilliance” outlook, but could also act as a trigger which gets me putting words onto electronic paper – it could be the one! My somewhat verbose musings were interrupted by seeing Superman carrying a man-bag, walking alongside Captain America and asking how to get to the Hammersmith and City Line; invigorated by the happenings within this great city, I practically skipped towards the theatre’s bright lights.

The pieces started and I will be succinct:

The pieces finished.

The Program by Saju Hari, had a lovely ending. A great sequence showing a man un-evolving tableaux and then a CCTV-like projection of the audience was revealed, illustrating a point about surveillance society and also, perhaps more appropriate to the theatrical context, uncovering the possibility of spectators surveying spectators instead of performers. There were some lovely movement phrases too which, like on so many other occasions, I have sat in my seat wanting to learn but in terms of lasting choreographic questions and impressions, I draw attention to the ending only because everything else seemed a little underwhelming.

WW3 by Dane Hurst, had doors, chains and windowpanes projected onto the floor. Other props and symbols included a wheelchair, the head and torso of a female mannequin, a lampshade, a very big stick and a smoke machine. Amongst this plethora of visual cues, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being shown everything when really I wanted very little. For example, Hurst with his back to the audience articulating complex rhythms alongside vertical jumps full of suspension was for me, his most fruitful moment.

Of the perplexing props, the wheelchair perhaps asked the most thoughtful questions as came into vision after having seen the virtuosity and risky abandon of the technically honed Hurst that the piece opened with. When Hurst sat in the chair and confined his movements to tetchy torso shifts, my mind whirred around the image being presented of a confined person and a confined dancer because the effects of these limitations seemed all the more extreme against the backdrop of the previous daring displays of movement. Even more striking for me was the fact that because as an audience we had just spent the piece’s first section watching all this able- bodied athletic skill, we knew it was fake! We had seen his skill and now we saw his fictional struggle. The moment revealed the devices and possibility of theatre. This sensation of presenting an image that threw up wonderful questions about the necessity of authenticity and how much to believe lasted for a few glorious seconds before he stood up with long strips of elastic tied to the chair and his wrists and started using the tension and rebound to suspend jumps and recoil landings.

Some might say this was a moment that represented the beginnings of liberation or euphoria; I say it was a moment when the foundations for my slightly left-field, optimistic interpretations quivered under the weight of more props that stampeded on in the order seen above for the rest of the piece. Choreographically, I had witnessed the everything but the kitchen sink methodology.

Vera Tussing’s The Icarus Project searched for delicate rhythms, reaching on tiptoe for sounds made by claps, slaps, strokes, pokes and scratches to be amplified by microphones positioned overhead. The three lithe female performers were graceful and the choreography structured simply but to beautiful effect.

Lastly, Frauke Requardt & Freddie Opoku-Addaie’s Fidelity Project had popcorn and missed punches. Forceful and loving, the choreographic and performance experience of these performers shone through and the genius of amplifying the sound of corn popping to complete the sound score added a gloriously unpredictable element which deepened the overall movement dynamics and rhythm.

Note to self: Given the last two paragraphs, I may have stumbled on my writers downfall – I can deal with work I like in very few words and ones I don’t with a rant…

The evening ended with voting and then the results of the vote were shown on the screen. I didn’t know showing the results was the status quo but perhaps such transparency should be applauded. Audience tastes averaged out and neatly tabled…Hmmmmm. In terms of my own taste, the two pieces I scored highest and equally with 4/5, came out top and bottom of the league. On this evidence, the collective public would position me as liking very bad pieces and very good pieces. Thank you. That works for me.


The Place Prize Semi-Final 1: Saju Hari, Dane Hurst, Frauke Requardt & Freddie Opoku-Addaie, Vera Tussing, 18 September 2010, The Place (London)