Saturday’s Place Prize Semi-Final 4 showcased the work by the last of the 16 commissioned choreographers, and with it came the announcement of the four pieces chosen to move forward to the finals. The audience vote went to h2dance’s Duet from the second night, with an impressive vote of 4.1 out of 5 stars. The final three pieces chosen by the judges were Riccardo Buscarini’s Athletes, from the first evening, Rick Nodine’s Dead Gig, from night two, and The Wishing Well, by Eva Recacha, that was the first work performed that night.

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

Recacha’s The Wishing Well was a deeply connected work that interfaced with tradition, life’s patterns and rituals, and religion. The floor is edged with light on all sides, and as performer Martha Pasakopoulou moves about the space, we become very aware of the light and her inability to cross it. Pasakopoulou takes cues from an audio recording of a woman speaking and singing, all bits and pieces effectively composed to dialogue with the dancer. The movement and performance of Pasakopoulou is exquisite. Every action has within it a meaning and intention, and this intention is displayed from head to foot. Because of this, she was able to communicate complex emotions and ideas in a way that may have been abstracted, but still maintained the integrity of that feeling.

Recacha was able to fully utilise this expressive quality to piece together a work that had a real strength and an honesty that was refreshing. I enjoyed watching this collage of movement and ideas, allowing this patchwork-narrative to take shape without feeling the need to understand every image. The Wishing Well was lovely, and I can’t wait to see it again in the finals.

The second piece of the evening was Robbie Synge’s Settlement, where two performers manipulate and organise around three plywood panels. These panels are balanced, flipped, pulled and dropped throughout the piece by both dancers to constantly engineer the space in new ways. Each new way of using the boards allows both the dancers and the audience members to see the space differently. I enjoyed how there was a natural relationship between the two performers that was constantly shifting from working together to working in opposition. Also, there were many moments in the piece where I was on edge, watching risky and precise handling of the boards, which added needed excitement. While it wasn’t a show-stopper, Settlement was an interesting piece, and one that kept my attention.

Next was Third by Goddard Nixon, which was choreographed and performed by Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon. The dancers performed in hoods and the lighting scene brought to mind an icy tundra, complete with lighting that simulated snow toward the end. This was the “danciest” piece of the evening, and both performers were clearly very technically apt. The partner work had high legs and smooth floorwork, and the dancers used complex lifts and weight transfers to achieve a fluid and dynamic duet. While the dancing was very clean and correct, it also felt a bit contained – as if the emotional connection wasn’t able to break past the technical work being done. It felt a little too unreal in its perfection, and I missed the sense of weighted reality amidst the complex dance movement. Still, I appreciated the fact that the choreographers were able to create a beautiful duet that highlighted their physical virtuosity.

The final piece of the evening was Seke Chimutengwende’s wacky The Time Travel Piece. In the beginning of this piece Chimutengwende takes the stage and explains an experiment where he has travelled through time and seen the dance of the future. He then is set the task of recreating these dances for us, the audience, as a presentation of his findings. He travels to 2085, where, he explains, choreographers are interested in making dance with very small movements. Then he visits 2501, where the dancers each have had the time to develop one movement that encompasses their artistic expression, so they only need perform that one movement repeatedly. Finally he travels to 2042, where everyone has such a short attention span that he teaches the choreography to the dancers as they perform it.

While a playful concept, and an intrinsically amusing idea, I felt that the actual crafting of the piece left much to be desired. If this is truly the dance of the future, I am worried. The pieces began with interesting ideas, but it felt like there needed to be another step taken to make the “time travelled” pieces actually choreographed, instead of just applying that year’s rule. It was an interesting idea, and had this second step been taken, I think the humour and fun already in the piece could have been matched with a stronger choreographic voice. Regardless, it was a light-hearted end to the evening, and to the whole Place Prize Semi-Finals.

Each of the 16 semi-finalists brought something unique to this fifth edition of the Place Prize, and I greatly enjoyed experiencing each piece. Eva Recacha, h2dance, Riccardo Buscarini and Rick Nodie return to The Place in April to continue the competition in the Place Prize Finals. If you missed these pieces the first time around, I strongly suggest coming to see these four talented choreographers duke it out for the title of winner, and the £35,000.