The Place Prize for Dance, semi-final, The Place, London

Stepping up the competition
Click to follow

In the bar at The Place, at the Robin Howard Dance Centre, a film plays on a loop. It shows clips of dancers talking, rushing through floor patterns, climbing into suitcases, standing naked in back gardens. They are all entries for the Place Prize for Dance, a new choreography award sponsored by Bloomberg. Nearly 200 choreographers submitted video projects - the film shows a second from each - with 20 chosen for the next round. Each of those was given £3,000 to make a 15-minute work.

In the bar at The Place, at the Robin Howard Dance Centre, a film plays on a loop. It shows clips of dancers talking, rushing through floor patterns, climbing into suitcases, standing naked in back gardens. They are all entries for the Place Prize for Dance, a new choreography award sponsored by Bloomberg. Nearly 200 choreographers submitted video projects - the film shows a second from each - with 20 chosen for the next round. Each of those was given £3,000 to make a 15-minute work.

As that £3,000 suggests, this is a pragmatic award. Dance promoters were involved in the selection process and the winners will be chosen through a combination of judges' decisions and audience votes. It adds a game-show element to the performances: during the interval, the audience uses handsets to vote.

The Place is generally a supportive venue, full of dance students and supporters. They've turned out in force for this series, ready to cheer their favourites. So far, every performance has sold out.

The last of the semis showed a wide range of styles, ranging from Indian classical to murder mystery. Soul of Light, by Mayuri Boonham and Subathra Subramaniam, starts with classical Indian Bharata Natyam and strips it down to become modern. The two women take slow, sculptural poses, with flexed feet and fanned fingers. Soumik Datta's music is all questioning chords; it sounds almost like American blues, but never resolves into melody. It's the same with the dance: it doesn't find its focus.

Sarah Dowling's Hotel asks for audience decisions before we've even collected our handsets. A mother and daughter, in grubby lace and ruffles, murder their male guests: Psycho meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. Then the son comes to stay. His mother is ready to smother him; his sister feels drawn to him; everybody struggles. At crisis point, the audience is asked to vote for its murderer: mother, daughter, or son. Hotel has blank patches but some striking moments: the women coiling out from under the bed, the daughter bearing the mother on her back.

Hofesh Shechter's Cult has strong dancing wrapped in dud philosophy. Questions are flashed on to a screen; all the dancers move to an insistent beat. A gorilla-suited figure lurks in the background. Finally, one soloist rejects the cult, leaving his own brown suit behind in a puff of talcum powder. It's untidy, but Shechter moves his dancers well: bold lines for the women, colloquial mooching for the men.

Experience does show. Rafael Bonachela, choreographer for Rambert and Kylie Minogue, won 42 per cent of the audience vote. His E2 7SD goes straight to the finals. It's a fast, hard-kicking duet, with a soundtrack of the dancers' diary entries: tangled bodies in everyday life. At last they fall into an exhausted heap. Martin Lawrance's Charge is a polished piece of dance, set to Steve Reich's Electric Guitar Phase. There is a fine moment: a couple stare downstage, gazing along a diagonal. Another group rushes in toward them, dashing up that line of vision. Lawrance has lovely dancers in good floor patterns but he doesn't make them distinctive.

Besides Bonachela, the finalists are Hofesh Shechter with Cult, Bawren Tavaziva with Umdlalo Kasisi, Tom Roden and Peter Shenton with The Short Still Show and Rosemary Butcher's Hidden Voices.

Final performances 15-25 September; the winner will be announced on the last night (020-7387 0031)

Comments