Review: The Place Prize Finals 2013

Performance: 17 - 27 April 2013
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Friday 19 April 2013

Rick Nodine 'Dead Gig' Photo: Benedict Johnson

Reviewed: 18 April

For the four finalists of this year’s Place Prize for dance, the gruelling final stretch is finally here. Ten performances over eleven nights, each capped with a nightly audience vote that will help distribute some of the £35,000 total prize money available (£1,000 per night), with the grand prize going to a jury-selected winner next Saturday evening. This year’s prize offers a slightly different format to previous finals – there are just four finalists in the 2013 edition, compared to five in previous events, whittled down from 16 semi-finalists by both a judging panel and popular vote. It’s safe to say this approach has thrown up four quite different contenders for the big prize.

Rick Nodine is an engaging performer with a background in contact improvisation, and his solo Dead Gig is itself a meditation on improvisational authenticity, structured around the history of The Grateful Dead and Nodine’s teenage experiences following the band. By his own nostalgic admission, Jerry Garcia’s folk rockers were hardly the hip choice of teenage fandom in the mid-1980s: Nodine runs through a list of musicians (The Smiths, Talking Heads, LL Cool J) that sounds like the catalogue of my own childhood. But his sincere passion for a group of aging hippies translates into sensitive and rather beautiful movement material.

As Garcia intones Morning Dew from somewhere beyond the grave, Nodine smears and melts his body soulfully into the floor; narrating a story about a Deadhead “dropping in” to a live performance and dancing with tribal abandon, Nodine likewise lopes and undulates across the stage. As an underage raver in 1987, my frame of musical reference is somewhat different, but the central idea of becoming one with the music through movement that Nodine embodies is immediately recognisable to me; Nodine’s warm nostalgia infuses a lovingly-crafted piece that, like the Grateful Dead’s music, is more complex than it at first appears.

Riccardo Buscarini is enjoying his second visit to the Place Prize finals, following 2011’s noirish Cameo (with Antonio de la Fe). This year’s offering, Athletes , has a notably icier, more glacial feel, opening with a cold blue wash of light across the stage that falls on three android-like figures clad in white latex. In silence, the three progress across the stage with interlocking limbs, hinging robotically at the hips and pulling each other back in space as each tries to get ahead of the others. Buscarini clearly knows his craft and the sequence is excitingly rhythmic; I would have enjoyed more of it. Instead, the piece segues into an extended slow-motion sequence featuring a fatal-looking kiss. Full marks to both choreographer and dancers for commitment and style; this chilly sci-fi aesthetic lingers in the memory long after the lights fade.

Eva Recacha is also hoping for success second time around (a 2011 finalist as well). The Wishing Well is a one-woman tour-de-force performed by the supremely perky Martha Pasakopoulou. The quasi-autobiographical narrative follows ‘Martha’ growing up, prevented from counting to the number ten by her mother (who fears it as an ill omen), wilfully rushing about the place and making wishes. The Martha character and the eponymous performer are both sweetly engaging; Pasakopoulou’s tiny frame is full of surprising force and energy, whether she’s marching around the box-lit space singing a strident Greek anthem, balancing on her head or spinning around like a whirligig. My wish for this piece would be that it added up to more than the sum of its vivacious parts.

Last on the bill are the audience votewinners Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard, who perform together as H2dance. Duet is the story of the duo’s experiments in couples therapy; after year over a decade together, the pair apparently decided it was time to subject their personal and performing relationship to therapeutic scrutiny. Dressed in eye-catching but unglamorous sequinned costumes, the pair relate their experiences in therapy as they repeat looping phrases of jazzy movement – brushes, ball-changes and hitchkicks with occasional added heads and hips. Gillgren learned that she wasn’t a very good friend, abandoning Rustgaard to the soul-destroying company admin while she enjoyed a world of cuddles and coffee with her “yummy mummy” friends.

Duet wraps a gentle humour around a difficult subject – how do two people, especially two such different souls as the gregarious Gillgren and the more reserved Rustgaard, manage to keep a relationship healthy and sane over time? The answer is left deliberately hanging. Rustgaard’s litany of admin tasks (“…access, diversity, engagement, outputs!”) shouted over a series of brutal Callanetic exercises cannot fail to garner sympathy from anyone who has ever completed an Activity Report Form; we understand that the endless Excel worksheets led to some kind of breakdown, during which Gillgren (now standing on Rustgaard’s prone body) was not available to help. And, on a rather melancholy note, there the piece ends; a final “shall we end it there?” may refer to the duet, or the relationship, or both.

The Place Prize may be regarded as something of a barometer for the current state of contemporary dance; from the selection offered this year it seems we are in quite a confessional place with autobiographical narrative (reliable or otherwise) taking the stage in three of four pieces. It will be interesting to see whether the final judging panel go for one of the text-heavy, theatrical pieces or for Buscarini’s more formal trio; with eight performances remaining the field is wide open.

The Place Prize
continues 19, 20, 22 – 27 Apr 2013

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher, as well as a regular contributor to, londonist & Arts Professional

Watch the final show on Saturday night – including the announcement of the overall winner live on line from 7.45pm here:

Audience prize winners so far:
Tue 23 April: Eva Recacha
Mon 22 April: h2dance
Sat 20 April: h2dance
Fri 19 April: h2dance
18 April h2dance
17 April Eva Rechaca

Check for latest results on The Place’s website

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