Review: The Place Prize Final at Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place

Performance: 20-30 Sep
Reviewed by Lindsey Clarke - Thursday 28 September 2006

Wednesday 27 September

The Place Prize Final has shaped up to be a genuinely exciting and diverse programme of dance. All the work resonates with relevance to contemporary life. The pieces tackle, respectively: the collision of classical traditions with urban city life, our love affair with flat pack furniture and the trials of modern relationships, disability, sex and discrimination, the power of non-verbal communication and our preoccupation with the pursuit of the perfect body. It’s a treat of a programme spanning different styles and approaches and an ideal introduction to contemporary dance. There’s no doubt about it: The Place Prize is cool.

Quick by Nina Rajarani
Twenty four hours in the working life of four Asian city boys is superbly portrayed in this wholly integrated piece comprising dance, film and live music. Rajarani sets the expressiveness, intricacy and energy of traditional Bharata Natyam in opposition to the blank face of urban commuter office life. Both dancers and band participate in this energetic and entertaining performance that travels through the working day from the journey into work, to battles round the boardroom table, to late night drinking and ultimate collapse before the whole cycle begins again. Quick leaves you beaming because it dazzles but it lacks depth. There’s no attempt to explore anything serious beneath the frenetic surface and I think this may stop Rajarani from running away with the prize come the weekend.

Self Assembly by Jonathan Lunn
This duet lays bare the perils of modern relationships likening them to the hazards of constructing flat pack furniture. Lunn’s dancers interpret the wonderfully deadpan instructive voiceover of Anthony Minghella in alternately interlocking and repulsive movements. The piece explores the emotional dynamic between the two dancers, cleverly boxed in by careful lighting design. The choreographic style is fluid and although the dancers have different ways of moving (the emphasis here being that people are different and must work at being ‘together’) they chime together and collide, enacting both desire and its malfunction. It ends suitably unresolved. This is an entirely pleasant and well thought out piece but it fails to challenge or say anything new or different. This piece won the audience vote tonight but I don’t think it’s got the originality or impact to cut it on Saturday.

Postcard by Lucy Suggate
There’s something very moving about POSTCARD although ultimately I was left wondering what. It’s a piece that deals directly with attitudes to disability both through a humorous talking head film and the use of dancer, James O’Shea, a double amputee. The choreographer creates a great deal of sexual tension between her cast, stripped down to suggestive bright pink catsuits, in all possible permutations and not shying away from simulations of sex. Suggate’s writhing choreography for the three on a white fur rug was beautiful. The performance is strong, funny, poignant and interesting yet the seaside postcard theme seems fairly arbitrary and peripheral to the heart of this piece but I couldn’t tell you what it is.

Silence Speaks Volumes by Freddie Opoku Addaie
This piece has transformed since it was first performed in the previews. Back then, I was interested and impressed with parts, yet it didn’t seem to hang together as a complete work. Tonight, however, Silence Speaks Volumes was seamless. The choreographic style, mixing lyrical contemporary dance, Capoeira, body popping, sheer athleticism and delicate, subtle motifs came across as truly innovative. The muted screams of the disparate cast of five are incredibly effective and underscore the theme of communication and silence that travels through the choreography. Addaie has created a genuinely new and distinctive dance work with a relevant, urban, multicultural sensibility. His vision has come into its own, just in time.

B for Body by Luca Silvestrini
Silvestrini’s pair of homoerotic gym instructors could have stepped straight out of a Hitler Youth propaganda video; all firm six-packs, white shorts and manly wrestling over a massage table_. B for Body_ is funny and terrifying. A neurotic woman, dressed only in black knickers, faces up to her deepest fears about her body and puts herself in the hands of the Adonis-like pair, allowing them to exercise, manipulate and pulverise her, ultimately sending her under the cosmetic surgeon’s knife in order to attain to the received ideal of physical perfection. This is a well performed and cleverly observed piece of dramatic dance theatre that addresses a very real societal obsession but its dependence on the powerful comedic performance of Sally Marie as the unfortunate woman at the heart of the story detracts, for me, from the choreography itself. The piece depends on humour more than dance.

Tonight the sponsors were in and the vocal enthusiasm of the audience was energising. The Place’s electronic voting system worked a treat and it was great to see a real spread of support across all the pieces at the end of the night. Jonathan Lunn walked away with tonight’s cash prize of £1000 but in my book, it’s Freddie Opoku Addaie you need to watch out for come Saturday.

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