Reviewer: Chantal Guevara
The Public Reviews Rating:
And so it’s over. After many months of buildup, sixteen works and eight performances, the suspense is over and we now know which four works will be competing in the Place Prize finals in April 2013. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: tonight was about the final four companies competing, and about a grand finale by Goddard Nixon and Seke Chimuntengwende.
The opening piece was Eva Rechacha’s ‘The Wishing Well’, a whimsical piece exploring the relationship between Recacha’s voiceover and performer Martha Pasakopoulou, Recacha sometimes narrating Martha’s movements, sometimes issuing instructions, sometimes telling the audience about Martha’s inner world, for example explaining how Martha’s mental block about the number ten was due to her parents meeting on 10 October, making 10 a doubly sinister number. The movement was largely mime-driven, using Rechacha’s vocal instructions as a starting point, whether expansive movements indicating Martha’s wishes, or curling up in a tight little ball to suggest moments of regression.
While The Wishing Well could have easily been less than it was, Martha Pasakopoulou was endearing to watch, either marching around the stage singing militant Greek songs or in her eager willingness to obey Recacha, slowly giving way to rebellion. And yet, using what seemed to be predominantly improvised movement, The Wishing Well lacked the choreographic strengths and structure of her last Place Prize commission ‘Begin To Begin’.
The second work of the evening was Settlement by Robbie Synge, which sought to investigate our relationship with the built and natural environments by using two dancers (Robin Dingemans and Erik Nevin) and three sheets of chipboard, exploring the different ways in which they could interact with each other. We saw the dancers rearrange the boards, hide behind them, become part of the sculpture, shifting the planks, letting them fall, not letting them fall, playing with suspension and limits.
Settlement is a piece which could easily continue indefinitely, as Synge discovers and explores yet more ideas, for Settlement is very much a collection of ideas, one following on from another, never having the chance to build upon each other or developing into anything more.
If The Place Prize was simply about the best dance performance, then Goddard Nixon – former Rambert dancers Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon – would have easily been the obvious winners. Two fantastic dancers at the peak of their abilities, they’ve performed works by some of the top contemporary dance choreographers, living or dead, and it’s rare to see dancers of their calibre in such an intimate setting.
In a departure from their previous abstract works, Third is set in an Antartic environment, exploring the uneasiness of being in a hostile setting, battling the elements and not knowing what’s out there beyond the mist and snow. It opened with a subdued start, Goddard wearily looking out at the audience while sitting on Nixon’s supine form. Using lithe, graceful movements, we saw them explore their surroundings, becoming ever more fearful; despite the complete implicit trust in their partnership, we saw their characters’ uncertainty with each other. And as Third never reached a conclusive end, it’s easy to imagine the characters are still trapped there, isolated and defenceless.
It’s rare to find people who are both impressively gifted as dancers and as choreographers, but Goddard and Nixon are both, and their growing maturity as choreographers can be seen in Third, a more ambitious work than their previous pieces, effectively balancing speed with more languid sections, and opportunities for both dancers to shine individually.
Seke Chimuntengwende is known for his unique brand of improvisation, humour and theatricality, and it was expected that he would create something special for his first Place Prize commission, ‘The Time Travel Piece’. At the start, he explained that he’d been invited to participate in a time travel experiment, travelling to the years 2085, 2501 and 2042, watching a dance performance in each time, but alas was unable to record any of the performances or bring any dancers back with him, so for our benefit, he has recreated the works with the best dancers he could find.
In 2085, he explained, scientists were exploring nanotechnology and not only had choreographers picked up on this by using nanomovements, but also “audiences’ powers of perception have increased dramatically”. The performance which followed saw his dancers shifting imperceptibly, to the audience’s hilarity, which soon petered out as Seke allowed this section to extend till both his performers and audience felt thoroughly awkward and embarrassed.
The next two sections were far briefer, portraying different scenarios: time travel being endemic in 2501, allowing people to rehearse indefinitely, and so create one signature movement which will define them as dancers, and time being too short in 2042 to actually rehearse, treating us to the sight of Seke manically demonstrating various movements then leaving his dancers to muddle through them.
Seke’s enthusiasm was irresistibly infectious, and it’s easy to see why this was the audience favourite of the night, and after Seke’s ‘Mr Lawrence’ closed the Resolution! season earlier this year, it seemed most appropriate for for Seke to close the Place Prize with a fresh injection of irreverent humour.
The Place Prize does like being controversial – or more accurately, stimulating discussions about the Place Prize and dance in general – and the shortlisting of Eva Recacha, Rick Nodine, Riccardo Buscarini and audience favourite h2dance for the finals may have surprised many people, but at least they now have six months to further develop their works. Let’s see what the Finals bring us….