Review: The Place Prize: Semi-final 2

Performance: 18 September 2012
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Thursday 20 September 2012

Rick Nodine - 'Dead Gig' The Place Prize for dance.  Photo Benedict Johnson.

Semi Final 2: Mamoru Iriguchi, Dog Kennel Hill Project, Rick Nodine, h2dance

Tuesday night’s second round of Place Prize semi-finalists raised the bar of this year’s competition. Perhaps even more importantly, the choreographers also presented an evening of powerful and intelligent works of art. Prizes and competitions always seem a bit antithetical to art making, though there’s no doubt that the £35,000 up for grabs here would be invaluable to fuelling the future endeavours of the lucky winner. But pleasantly all four of these contenders seemed more focused on an affectionate treatment of their subject matter and a genuine exploration of their practice, than they did on wow-ing the crowd and the judges. Nevertheless – albeit in some cases more than others – wow-ed we were.

Mamoru Iriguchi’s One Man Show has a cutely ironic title since despite there being only one performer, Iriguchi himself, he appeared reproduced via clever video technology, simultaneously projected on several screens and the back wall. On the surface the piece didn’t have much to do with dance, but Iriguchi’s timing and coordination were expert, as he interrupted and comically sparred with multiple versions of himself, delivering a kind of cleverly abridged pastiche of Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ monologue.

Third in the line-up was Dog Kennel Hill Project’s Execute Now. Choreographed by Ben Ash, this work was like a moody meditation in which the laws of physics and economics seemed to be juxtaposed via the manipulation of swinging sandbag pendulums and a repetitive voiceover of radical polemics declaring things like “conventional economics is a form of brain damage”. The piece was stoically performed by Ash and two multitalented post-punk protégés, one of whose ‘costume’ was his own elaborately tattooed torso. The combined effect of loud, insistent alarm-like sound effects, cryptically symbolic hand and body movements, and the falling, swinging and shaking of those sandbags of doom; made for an eerie laboratory of impending cultural collapse.

The two standouts of the night were as smart and effective in their use of stagecraft and dramaturgy, but with the addition in both cases, of having a depth of emotional range that put them in a slightly higher register. Rick Nodine’s performance in his own piece Dead Gig was awesome. He related the intersecting histories of rock band The Grateful Dead and his own adolescence, through spoken personal narrative and psychedelic acid trail undulations. Nodine sang along to recorded tracks like a teenager alone in his room and danced the story of his own outsider status; he was into the Dead in the ‘80s, when his contemporaries were listening to the Smiths. Employing a vocabulary of gestures that seemed to have evolved from images in memories, he described the notion of ‘dropping in’ with the music at a gig, disappearing into the sound of the band playing. Part tribute to a beloved band, but more a reflection on how the cultural artefacts we encounter shape our lives even after we grow out of them, Dead Gig was a joyful and moving piece, and Nodine deserves serious consideration for this year’s prize.

Each night of the semi-finals the audience is invited to give star ratings to each of the pieces via electronic vote counting gizmos. On Tuesday night the audience vote went resoundingly to h2dance and their piece Duet. Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard, created and performed the piece, which they began by explaining was about their relationship with each other and the discoveries they had made in a cycle of couple’s counselling. Wearing sparkly sequined costumes, they told the story of their therapeutic journey whilst executing a battery of soft shoe-esque time steps. Both Gillgren and Rustgaard are naturally funny and at moments their delivery was downright hilarious. When the physicality of their show-turns came to mirror the twists and turns in their therapy, there was a melancholy undercurrent that made us wonder if we were watching truth or fiction. Like Nodine’s work, h2dance brought us into a personal world through the effective mixture of content and formal dance theatre elements; another one to watch as the finalists are decided.

Place Prize Finalists announced
Semi Final 4 review
Semi Final 3 review
Semi Final 1 review

The Place Prize, 17 – 20 April 2013

Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a New Yorker in London studying for a PhD in Aesthetic Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London.

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