The Place Prize Semi-Final continued on Thursday, with Nina Kov, Neil Paris, bgroup and Darren Ellis showcasing work in the third evening of this four-night series. The Place Prize, now in its fifth edition, is a competition aimed at encouraging engagement with contemporary dance. Sixteen choreographers were commissioned to create brand new works, which are then voted on by the audience and a panel of judges. These votes decide which four of the original 16 make it to the finals in April, to compete for the £35,000 prize.

bgroup, A Short Lived Alteration of an Existing Situation, The Place Prize for dance, photo © Benedict Johnson
bgroup, A Short Lived Alteration of an Existing Situation, The Place Prize for dance, photo
© Benedict Johnson

Nina Kov was first in this evening’s bill, with the aptly named Copter. Wearing a green geometric leotard, knee-pads and a hood, Kov shared the stage with a remote-controlled helopcopter, piloted from the wings. In this irregular duet for human and machine, the two circled and chased each other through a complex performance. Unfortunately for Kov, I think the helicopter, and its pilot, stole the show. I was incredibly impressed by the level of control and manoeuvrability of the helicopter, and I enjoyed the fact that Kov gave the copter personality and human-like qualities.

The clarity of the copter and its role were directly contrasted to the ambiguity of the movement vocabulary. It was interesting at points, but often seemed unedited and unfocused. This made the overall message within the piece slightly muddled, and while it was apparent that the connection between dancer and helicopter was the topic, the artistic interpretation of this relationship was unclear. With serious and slightly cheesy music and lighting, the ends didn’t add up to make a whole, and left me with a sense that Copter didn’t quite reach the level of consciousness and craft that I had hoped it would.

The second piece was Neil Paris’ The Devil’s Mischief, a thoughtful piece that stands out in my mind as the piece with striking visual imagery and many, many dunce caps. Based on the book of the same name, The Devil’s Mischief examines the connection between God and the Devil and good and evil, and the way these two extremes exist in every person. Scattered across the stage were dunce caps with boldface “G” and “D” written on them, which the dancers tipped and scattered as they moved throughout the landscape. I have not read the book, but I thought that there was very clear intent in the movement and progression, even if I wasn’t directly aware of the motivation. The piece was calm and confident, and I enjoyed watching it unfold, not knowing where it would end up.

Ben Wright’s bgroup followed the interval, with A short lived alteration of an existing situation. The piece explores the intangible experience of dance within a moment, and the finality of its end. This piece was the easiest for me to watch and enjoy, with clear and beautiful movement, appealing visual flow and a real human connection. The dancers exhibited both a heightened clarity and sense of weight that made the movement constantly engaging, and the timing and pace of the choreography was perfectly calibrated. It wasn’t a groundbreaking piece of work, but an enjoyable duet, that showed both the choreographer’s and the dancers’ artistic dexterity.

The final work of the evening was Darren Ellis’ Revolver, a relentless duet between two women set to the exhausting sound score performed live by The Turbulent Eddies. This piece was equal parts mesmerizing and jarring, with rhythmic movement and a clockwise pattern that made it seem almost inhumanly precise. In contrast to the work preceding it, Revolver wasn’t easy to watch because it flowed, but rather because it required you to stay attentive. The patterning was skilfully choreographed, and although intense, it was a nice departure from the contemplative and heavy works before it.

***11