Review: The Place Prize - Semi-final 4

Performance: 22 September 2012
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Monday 24 September 2012

The Place Prize for dance - Eva Recacha's - 'The Wishing Well'. Photo: Benedict Johnson.

Eva Recacha The Wishing Well; Robbie Synge Settlement; Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon Third ; Seke Chimutengwende The Time Travel Piece

There was a sizzle of excitement in the air on Saturday night at The Place. For not only was it the last night of the Place Prize semi-finals, it was of course, also the night we would hear which pieces will go through to the finals next spring. The four chosen will compete for a whopping £35,000 in prize money. Tonight’s offerings were a mixed bag in more than just quality, but in the spirit of star-ratings and judging, I’d say it was the second best night of the four semi-finals. The works foregrounded formal elements over content, with one standout exception, a choreographer who apparently stood out to the judges as well.

Eva Recacha started the evening off on a high note, in the form of a marching song with Martha Pasakopoulou belting it out in Greek at the top of her lungs, bursting into the space stomping, and stabbing her fist in the air. The Wishing Well is a tight, athletically choreographed solo work, performed here with gusto. The piece could be interpreted as the coming of age story of a feisty young girl who dreams and makes demands on the world, both with equal ferocity. A disembodied voice both narrates and interrogates Pasakopoulou, as she combines exertion with poise, honing in on an effective balance between expressive dance movements and abstract storytelling. Although dramaturgically unfocused at times, this was a rich work and Recacha is a talent to watch. And watch her we will, in the Final next spring.

Settlement is an apt title for the piece by Robbie Synge, in which two men erect makeshift structures, out of three large panels of wood. Like improvised existentially collapsing shelters, they lean the panels against each other precariously, knocking them down or letting them fall, picking them back up and so on. Some metaphorical meaning could be read into these games, but the performances were mostly flat and perfunctory, and the overall effect was more that of the demonstrations in a clever circus act than of choreographic virtuosity.

The most virtuosic dancing of this entire Place Prize competition was done by Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon in their piece Third. Performing in a white square, upon which a cracked surface was occasionally projected, the two seemed trapped in an icy purgatory. They established motifs reminiscent of strategies for survival in an unforgiving arctic landscape; huddling for warmth, extending a helpful arm that turned into a hoisting lift. But what was really on display was their impeccable technique. Indeed, the choreography seemed more in service of this than it was relevant to the actual thematic or emotional content of the work. Nevertheless, it was one of the best performances of the semi-finals.

Seke Chimutengwende seems like a really sweet guy. With unruly dreads sprouting on his head, a twinkle in his eye and a friendly grin; as he introduced his idea of time travelling to retrieve and reconstruct choreographic ideas from the future, his childlike, playful personality has got to be genuine. Unfortunately the results of his experimentations here, his The Time Travel Piece, although surely heartfelt, come off quite thin. The music composed and played by Michael Picknett lent a subtle, jazzy texture to the piece, which almost worked to add substance. But the execution was self-consciously jokey and adolescent, kind of like a skit performed at summer camp.

Chimutengwende was the high scorer in Saturday’s audience vote – the most thoughtful work of the evening and the most expertly performed of the series – Recacha and Goddard Nixon respectively – somehow didn’t rate in the audience’s affections. The good news for Recacha of course, is that the judges did favour The Wishing Well for the final, along with Riccardo Buscarini’s Athletes and Rick Nodine’s Dead Gig. The fourth finalist is h2dance’s Duet, which won the audience vote overall.

Place Prize Finalists announced
Semi Final 3 review
Semi Final 2 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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