The second night of the Place Prize semi-finals proved even more entertaining than the first, with the next four choreographers vying for a spot in the final, and a chance to win £35,000. Mamoru Iriguchi, Rick Nodine, Dog Kennel Hill Project, and h2dance were the four choreographers billed in Saturday’s program, and each presented a new work that was enjoyable and memorable.

h2dance, Duet, The Place Prize for dance © Benedict Johnson
h2dance, Duet, The Place Prize for dance
© Benedict Johnson

Up first was Mamoru Iriguchi’s One Man Show, which playfully explored the idea that with the audience’s differing perspectives, the piece of work can vary hugely. The stage contained four life-size screens that projected images of Iriguchi taken from different angles, with labels such as “stalls” to indicate the perspective represented. Word bubbles and thought clouds appeared on the screens throughout the performance, depicting the input each hypothetical audience member gives to that screen. With acting as cliché and campy as his pink and white suit, Iriguchi recites Hamlet’s famous soliloquy “To be or not to be”, but using the audience’s input. The screens veered from the norm to show what happens when the performer adjusts to consider each audience member’s perspective.

Even describing the piece is challenging, so I can imagine the technical conception and execution was incredibly intricate, and merits a mention. What shone through were the cliché qualities, which seemed intentional, and made me wonder about the real ramifications of a situation where the performer had a direct connection to my thoughts during their performance. However, the bubble writing and overacting became trite, and left little room for an actual connection to happen between me, the real audience member, and Iriguchi. Despite this, One Man Show had bits where I laughed out loud, and this entertainment quality was its redeeming facet.

Following a short break was Rick Nodine’s Dead Gig – an ode to his own teenage years in America as a fan of the band the Grateful Dead when they had passed their prime. Nodine provided the audience with snapshots from his life, as well as bits of information about the Grateful Dead and their frontman Jerry Garcia. These flowed seamlessly together with movement and music, to create a piece that was engaging and never tedious. The intricate lighting designed by Gareth Green brought the audience through Nodine’s tale with grace, from one psychedelic scene to the next – 60s flower power included. Jamie McCarthy’s musical score also helped usher us along, weaving snippets of songs, narrative and his own compositions to support Nodine’s movement.

The most impactful part of Dead Gig for me was during a scene about being completely in the moment and the music. A narration about “being totally in it” plays while Nodine dances, and it becomes perfectly clear that he is “totally in” his dancing. Nodine’s fluidity and kinetic knowledge was so engaging that it allowed me in turn to get a moment to be “in it” too, which made all the layers of the work slide into place.

Next we imparted on a journey of a very different kind with Dog Kennel Hill Project’s Ben Ash in Execute Now. In this piece sand bags hung from the ceiling on ropes that were adjusted and manipulated throughout the piece. The pendular swinging of these sandbags, and the many ways the three dancers interacted with them, became the main focus of the piece. As with many of Dog Kennel Hill Project’s works, it often felt like there was some kind of method or game happening that the dancers all knew about, but that we as an audience were ignorant of. This gave the piece an interesting air of uncertainty and I continually questioned whether the timing and sequences happening onstage were engineered or happened by chance.

Over the top of this scene there was audio input of two record players that blasted seemingly random tracks of music, methodical pulses and a strange educational track about economics and natural resources. By the end of the piece I felt almost hypnotized by the ordered chaos and enjoyed just watching the patterns and possibilities that emerged.

Finishing the show was h2dance’s Duet, which was a witty and well-crafted piece, performed by the two choreographer/performers Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard. The piece finds the two women talking to us about their time in couples counselling, while they perform dance reminiscent of choreography from a chorus line done in a practical, repetitive way. To describe it in this way gives very little credit to the thought and skill applied to Duet, making it at times funny, thoughtful, tender, and insightful. Every decision made by the choreographers added to the impact of the piece, and it was refreshing to feel so connected to the performers. Because of this it was no surprise that Duet received the highest audience vote of the night at 4.1 stars out of 5.

The second Place Prize semi-final showcased four pieces that were very different from each other, but still maintained an obvious level of excellence. Tonight, four more choreographers present their work for one of the four coveted spots in the Place Prize Finals.

****1