This year’s finalists for the Place Prize for Dance are a strange mix: a 'Deadhead', two women seeking couples therapy, three 2001: Space Odyssey-esque figures battling for their lives, and one free-spirited young woman dancing to the themes of her childhood. Now in its fifth year, the Bloomberg-sponsored competition continues to showcase the absurd, the fabulous and everything in between, all for the love of modern dance.
The concept is fun: the four acts, whittled down from 208 initial submissions, then 16 semi-finalists, perform ten shows with each night’s audience voting on their favourite performance (via a gadget resembling a 1990s brick-like mobile phone). That same evening, the winner of the night is announced, granting them £1,000. On the final evening, the votes from all shows are tallied, permitting the grand prize winner to walk away with £25,000. Sounds like a game show? Yes. Maybe even a bit like a taping of X Factor? Yes. But more importantly, is it entertaining? Most definitely.
The brilliance behind the prize is its originality in tone and style – you never know what you might get, a bag of tricks so to speak. Its reputation for being open-minded to the weird and wonderful attracts choreographers from around the UK, many of whom have trained internationally.
Rick Nodine’s Dead Gig takes us back to the 1980s, when the Grateful Dead inspired every hippy-loving, free-thinking, I-want-to-change-the-world kind of person. Told through sequential, improvised dance movements, which Nodine is known for, and a continuous soundtrack of songs taken from the band's live concerts at San Francisco’s Fillmore West, the segment nicely conveys the passion Jerry Garcia and crew evoked – just too bad some of the dancing feels a bit random and clunky.
Next up is Riccardo Buscarini’s creepy Athletes, taking place on a blue neon-lit stage where three women resembling robots move in slow patterns, sometimes in romantic entanglements and other times in fiercely vengeful encapsulations. Made in collaboration with science-inspired fashion designer Brooke Roberts, this piece is style over substance, leaving the audience perplexed but also perhaps enlightened with its unusual choreography.
Martha Pasakopoulou breathes fresh air to the next set, spinning, jumping and even singing in Eva Racacha’s The Wishing Well. Performed over a narration explaining the girl’s hopes and wishes, Pasakopoulou expertly dances, more so than any of the other segments. While she is incredible to watch, it feels a bit light on content.
And finally, leaving the best for last, according to this particular night’s audience, is the quirky Scandinavian team Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard. From the bright sequined costumes to the often hilarious dialogue, this couple relay their disgruntled thoughts about each other through silly movement sequences and an almost Abbott and Costello kind of comedic banter. It may not be the best in terms of choreography, but it certainly brings originality to the table.
The Place Prize for Dance continues through to next Saturday 27 April – you be the judge.
The Place is at 17 Duke Road, WC1. Tickets are £17-£25 with a running time at approximately two hours inclusive of one interval. A pre-show discussion with previous Place Prize winners will take place on Monday 22 April at 6.30pm. On Wednesday 24 April, the artists in The Place Prize Finals will discuss their work with Lyndsey Winship, Dance Editor of Time Out. The winner will be announced after the show on 27 April. Events are free to ticket holders.