This week at The Place Prize finals we’re invited yet again to “Step into the dance debate” and help select a winner from the remaining four UK choreographers. The finals are the last round of a two-year process that whittled 208 applications into 16 new dance commissions, which were narrowed yet again in the semi-finals last fall to the final four. These pieces are Rick Nodine’s Dead Gig, Riccardo Buscarini’s Athletes, Eva Recacha’s The Wishing Well and h2dance’s Duet.

Eva Recacha, Wishing Well: Place Prize for dance © Benedict Johnson
Eva Recacha, Wishing Well: Place Prize for dance
© Benedict Johnson

While a distinguished panel of judges decides the overall winner of the £25,000 prize, we the audience also have a hand in doling out the reward. Each night of the ten-performance run the audience votes on their favourite piece, and the majority vote gets £1,000. On Friday, when I went, the winner of the audience vote was h2dance; unsurprising considering their piece Duet went through to the finals because it received the highest audience vote in the semi-finals.

I really enjoyed Duet when I saw it last fall in the semi-finals, and to be honest it was the one I was most looking forward to seeing again. Gillgren and Rustgaard’s smooth, detached cycle of movement coupled with the sanguine delivery of their recent couples’ therapy forays had me chuckling, and I thought it was nice, clever and light. Seeing it again, I experienced a darker tone to the piece. It seemed like the comedic timing was not as snappy, and instead of leaving a smile on my face I felt puzzled and unresolved. Details stood out to me, like the ineffectual use of the rolling lamps to actually change the lighting of Gillgren’s euphoric solo, and the slightly odd background music for the first section of the piece. Overall it felt heavy and ended on a down note, which gave the piece a more realistic feel, but also sacrificed some of the buoyancy I felt in the semi-finals.

Rick Nodine’s Dead Gig also was a bit of a let-down, mainly because I didn’t remember it being so wordy. The piece describes Nodine’s own fascination with the band the Grateful Dead long after the band’s golden years, and involves a lot of both Nodine speaking, and recordings of historical context about the band and its frontman Jerry Garcia. Nodine’s movement was the best part of the piece, and I liked the suspended shoe, even though I did’t quite get it. What detached me from the work wasn’t the text describing his connection with the Dead, or the descriptive pieces about the movement. It was really just the huge amounts of information about Garcia, the band and the era that I couldn’t quite connect to Nodine’s own experience of the Grateful Dead. But perhaps I just didn’t drop into his performance this time.

Riccardo Buscarini’s Athletes was the piece that I didn’t expect to be in the finals. As I was preparing to watch it again I thought, “What is it that I’m missing that everyone is raving about?” I saw the addition of white face makeup and crazy lashes, and sat there stubbornly, more convinced I still would not like the piece. And I do have one major issue with it – namely, the transitions. I still like the trio that moved diagonally like a half-human-Pilobolus-steamroller, but the slow log roll coupled with the ponderous walk back to the corner felt like dead space. However, I started to come around to the interesting breathing duet, and found the beautiful subtlety in the final solo, enjoying the dancer’s exploration of the mechanical body from simple spine manipulations to extreme contortions. Athletes was still not my favourite piece, but I’ll give a nod to the judges – they know what they’re doing.

Last but not least was Eva Recacha’s Wishing Well. Martha Pasakopoulou keeps us constantly engaged in a whirlwind of snapshots and ideas, some whizzing past before we can grasp them, while others grow and become fully fledged motifs. The piece relies heavily on a text soundscore that accompanies the dance, sometimes dictating the movement, while other times layering on top of to compound the collaging effect of the piece. I found Pasakopoulou’s performance incredibly emotive, which helped turn this jumble of references into a cohesive thought. It got my vote.

Revisiting these pieces gave me a chance to see things I missed the first time, and it was obvious the effort and revision each piece went through to get here to The Place Prize finals. Now all that’s left is to wait and see who the judges pick to be the winner.

***11