Review: The Place Prize 2010 in Semi-finals at The Place

Performance: 14 - 25 September 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 27 September 2010

The Place Prize 2010 Semi-final 4. Top: Riccardo Buscarani and Antonio de la Fe Guedes' 'Cameo'. Below: Drew McOnie: 'Slaughter'
Photos: Benedict Johnson

Semi final 4: 25 September

There’s a real buzz of anticipation in the 300-strong audience at The Place Robin Howard Dance theatre tonight; not only will this evening’s performance bring us the pleasure of the final four semi-finalists of this year’s competition, but April’s finalists will be announced in the bar at the end. The final clutch of commissioned Prize competitors tonight take inspiration from film noir, Broadway musicals, and the sometimes-farcical processes of choreography itself in another diverse assortment of dancemaking.

So You Think You Can Dance*quarter-finalist *Drew McOnie brought a touch of celebrity to the line-up (and to the audience, in the form of mentor Matthew Bourne). Slaughter is based on the narrative and score of Richard Rodgers’ 1936 piece Slaughter on 10th Avenue, and deals with the ill-fated romance of a showgirl and a male dancer. McOnie’s high-kicking choreography paid visual debt to Broadway show-dance – and to Jerome Robbins’ fusion of ballet and jazz in particular.

By contrast with Robbins’ innovative combination of classical technique and raw urban rhythms, McOnie’s tribute is conspicuously backward-looking. Slaughter pays copious homage to the MGM-stylings of the narrative source, with sequinned costumes, backlit billboards and lots and lots of legs. There’s plenty happening on stage – too much, at times, with the bustling dancers obscuring the narrative action. Slaughter’s loving recreation of past styles keeps the work from breaking new ground.

From consciously retro to visibly avant-garde: Welsh choreographer Deborah Light brings us the idiosyncratic solo Cortex. An examination of loss of external identity, Cortex plays out with the dancer’s face obscured by a procession of wigs. As the wigs change, so does the dancer’s movement vocabulary: from spasmodic disco dancing and flapping gestures suggestive of waving away some bodily odour danced in a curly fright wig, to more contemplative floor-bound shifts in angelic blonde locks. Elusive and unpredictable, Cortex began strongly but found no place to go after the first couple of costume changes.

Riccardo Buscarani and Antonio de la Fe Guedes have clearly been raiding the film noir section of their local Blockbuster; Cameo owes much to the visual language of Hitchcock’s masterful thrillers. Around a leather sofa suite, two men and a woman dressed for a guest appearance on Mad Men circle one another warily, jumping at the sound of each slam and bark penetrating from the outside world. At first, the reason everyone is so jittery is concealed; but as the piece unfolds a story of marital infidelity and murderous plotting emerges.

Cameo succeeds in creating a dark and suspenseful atmosphere with its heavy clock-ticking soundtrack, gloomy noirish lighting and cleverly minimal movement, and I found myself quite absorbed in the action. The three characters pace uneasily, swapping meaningful glances and revealing connections with the briefest of touches. The piece finally evolves into a playful sofa dance built on the trio’s key gestures; the final twist, each character inhabiting another’s movement, is light and witty.

Rachel Lopez de la Nieta brings a postmodern finish to the programme with The Devil and the Details, a sideways glance at instructional choreography. The choreographer puts dancer Ben Ash through his paces with a series of commands – “Special down, stagger round, come up again” – at a furious pace while collaborator Thom Rackett beatboxes. There’s something exquisite about the way Ash twists and collapses on command as Lopez de la Nieta explores her self-confessed “inner dictator” with hilarious effect. Somehow, an exploration of choreographic process in all its unfathomable absurdity makes a very fitting end to this year’s Place Prize.

The audience scores for this last semi-final were: Drew McOnie 3.5; Deborah Light 2.3; Riccardo Buscarani and Antonio de la Fe Guedes3.2; and Rachel Lopez de la Nieta 3.1.

Tuesday’s audience vote winners Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer won the overall audience vote with a score of 4.3; they’ll be joined in the April finals by the judges’ choices of Frauke Requardt & Freddie Opoku Addaie, Eva Recacha, and Riccardo Buscarani & Antonio de la Fe Guedes.

Four remain from 170 entries. Congratulations to the finalists, commiserations to the others, and I’m looking forward to a red-hot competition for the big prize in April.

Tickets for the Place Prize Finals 6 – 16 April 2011 are onsale now:

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