The Place Prize 2006 Semi-Final, The Place, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The entries are certainly varied. The first Place Prize semi-final has Christmas trees, sibling rivalry, burbling free jazz and some taut dancing.

This is the biggest prize in British contemporary dance. Sponsored by Bloomberg, it offers choreographers the chance to win £25,000. The 20 shortlisted choreographers are given support in making a new 15-minute dance. The judging panel, chaired by The Place's John Ashford, includes the musician Brian Eno and the artist Chris Ofili.

In practice, the Place Prize seems to reward emerging artists rather than big names. Applications tend to come from those working on a smaller scale - some established, others starting out. The first competition, held in 2004, produced no masterpieces, but its finalists came out with significantly higher profiles.

This semi-final offered impressive dancing standards. All performers moved well, and distinctively, and there were some promising dances here. The competition has generated a buzz, and spectators can influence the prize, as one of the five finalists will be selected by audience vote.

Forest, by Maxine Doyle and Felix Barrett, was dominated by 19 Christmas trees. Fernanda Prata made her entrance from under one, worming her way out. It was a striking stage picture, and there was one terrific image in the piece, but the dancing meandered, full of winding moves.

Freddie Opoku Addaie won the audience vote, including mine. Silence Speaks Volumes had some lovely dancing, with silky torsos and stamping feet. Addaie included gestures - an "OK" sign with spread fingers, pointing hands, stern glances - but weaved them into dance patterns. Two women, side by side, stomped on the spot, with the liveliness of a Charleston. Chris Rook, too, partnered with easy grace.

In All End In Tears (The Wardrobe Piece), Alex Broadie and Chris Evans acted out a childish rivalry, with Broadie emerging from a wardrobe to squabble with Evans. This physical theatre piece lost focus, but was deftly observed.

Chem's Soul, by Anh Ngoc Nguyen, started with artful posing, but moved on to quick, sharp dancing. Alina Lagoas dived around two men, lines bold and strong, then fluttered from pose to pose. Movement was sleek. Jane Mason, dancing Come on Sun, stomped with energy, but her choreography slipped into airy-fairyness.

The Place Prize runs until 30 September (020-7121 1100)

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