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

Performance: 14 - 25 September 2010
Reviewed by Katie Fish - Monday 27 September 2010

The Place Prize 2010 Semi-final 3. Top: Eva Recacha’s 'Begin to Begin: A Piece about Dead Ends'. Below: Darren Ellis: 'From the Waist Up'
Photos: Benedict Jonhson

Semi-final 3: 23 September

_*Three Sighs to Beauty* _by Vangelis Legakis considers how a sigh caused by one particular feeling can differ in terms of ‘emotional arousal and dynamic stimulation’ from a sigh caused by a contrasting feeling. An interesting premise for dance exploration but when the portrayal of those feelings seems forced and exaggerated, the material lacks conviction and meaning. This is not to say that the three dancers are not watchable performers because they move with prowess and vigour, but as characters it is difficult to empathise with them or to feel stirred by what they are trying to covey. Loud, jarring notes punctuate Matthew Orange’s electro score but serve only to heighten the sense of melodrama. Throughout, the dancers take snatches of air as if starved of oxygen, and often their movement is panicked or full of angst. Elbows are flexed, wrists are inverted and their bodies shake as if convulsed. Moments of calm punctuate when a sigh or intake of breath offers brief release, but often the dancers’ actions do not really seem to come from deep within themselves. With more time to explore the interweaving relationships of breath and emotional impulse, this work could enter into some interesting territory, but it is not there yet.

In his programme acknowledgements Darren Ellis credits escapologist Ros Walker. Because the programme notes for The Place Prize provide only a brief biog for each of the 16 competing artists as well as the names of their collaborators, this little snippet of information offers an intriguing hint at what From The Waist Up entails. Ellis makes a somewhat unceremonious entrance; he is trolleyed onstage, bound by rope, head hidden under sacking like some prisoner awaiting a ghastly end. Unable to stand, every wriggle is an effort but he stubbornly persists in slowly loosening the cords that bind him; clearly there is method to his madness. He shakes his head furiously, casting off the sack, but his mouth remains gagged by tape. He stomps his feet, rubbing his ankles together, and flapping his elbow like a clucking chicken with clipped wings. Accompanied by Sammy Davis Junior’s Mr Bojangles, there is an element of farce to his dilemma. In the recorded address by Davis Junior, the speaker advises that it is ‘best to avoid sticky situations’ – a tip Ellis has plainly not headed. Once free, his body shudders in fits and starts as if in rebellion at being unjustly ensnared, and he flips himself over repeatedly like one caught in an unceasing nightmare. Having approached the microphone, Ellis simply states ‘No comment’; it may be a cliché but actions can speak louder than words.

Entitled *Begin to Begin: A Piece about Dead Ends**, Eva Recacha’s* work starts in reverse and persists in an unceasing cycle, driven on by the folksy, playground mantra Michael Finnegan. The trio alternatively adopt the role of the ill-fated Finnegan, who’s death is replayed at each command of ‘Begin again,’ the other two characters comically pushing and shoving him to his death, and then ironically musing ‘poor old Michael Finnegan’. At times the three seem to morph into one, swaying rocking, and shunting each other across the stage as if in some ritualistic passage. Both the chanting and the movement enter the nonsensical but it remains wholly entertaining nevertheless; Recacha keeps the work on a tight reign so it avoids becoming frivolous.

The final piece on this billing was Conor Doyle’s *Crow in Eden* _which takes its premise from poet Ted Hughes’ anthology _Crow and brings the familiar story of Adam and Eve in to a contemporary club setting, complete with cans of Strongbow cider. Doyle collaborated with counter-tenor Richard Scott and composer Rob Allen to create this macabre operetta, and there is continual cross-over between the musicians and dancers. It can be difficult to differentiate between characters; clad in silver half-mask, Scott seems like the orchestrator but there is also a serpent like figure with aptly pointed feet and a skimpily dressed chorus. The pulsating, twisting movement does become repetitive but overall the work is entertaining enough, if taken with a pinch of salt.

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