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The Place Prize -- Semi-final 4

by Julia Skene-Wenzel

September 11, 2004 -- Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place, London

There was an air of excitement when the fourth and final Place Prize Semifinal opened its doors to another sold-out venue. Concluding its run of 20 newly commissioned works by selected UK based choreographers, the British public and a jury of art specialists were once more invited to select the evening’s most successful piece. With the announcement of the five finalists imminent, four selected by the jury and one by the audience, all participants were eager to witness a successful finish to this eventful week.

”Soul of light,” a mesmerizing duet of stillness and clarity, was inspired by a poem by the Indian mystic Swami Vivekananda. In a smoky blue twilight zone, The Place resident choreographers Mayuri Boonham and Subathra Subramaniam move through a series of postures, turning towards and away from the audience, carefully placing each gesture, each step to the faint sound of strings played live on the Sarod by Soumik Datta. Their bright pink dresses break through the calmness of the scene, seducing the eye to follow their journey. Moments of unison flow seamlessly into sequences of quiet interplay, while the overall energy flow remains intact. It is in those moments of interchange, where the dancer’s pathways cross, that the choreography comes alive. Performed with great sincerity and integrity, this contemporary approach to classical Indian Bharata Natyam dance persuades through simplicity and the strength of its spirituality.

A murder mystery -- committed for the audience’s pleasure -- is introduced and silently observed by a lone narrator. After years away from home, a young man returns to avenge his father’s death, unaware of his mother’s and sister’s past, which accounts for the death of his father and every single male guest that has stayed in the “Hotel.” The race for survival is on. Set on a bare stage, Irish choreographer Sarah Dowling focuses all attention on a cast-iron bed. The dimly lit space displays the projected letters H-O-T-E-L, while the slightly torn period costumes turn mother and daughter into hovering scarecrows. With the suspense of a Hitchcock thriller, arms reach up from underneath the bed, alliances between players shift, and the iron bed frame turns into a trap, pillows into weapons and the family reunion into a murder -- but only after the audience has voted for their preferred villain. “Hotel” is a quirky piece of theatrical dance, which takes unexpected turns and manages to work successfully around a central object without limiting its choreographic options.

Hofesh Shechter’s quest for reason has led him to “Cult.” In an attempt to shed some light on human nature, the Israeli choreographer dives into the sinister world of doctrines, sheep mentality, the fear of being alone and inner emptiness. Three men and women battle through relentless, fast-paced choreography: twisting and turning, rising and falling, keeping in line with each other, dancing to the point of exhaustion, looking for ‘something to fight for, something to live for, something to die for.’ At times individuals break off and move against the stream, but the group is too powerful and in the end achieves total integration. ‘Cult’ is a rich tapestry of music and dance, spoken word and cinematic projections. Its darkness remains and mounts throughout the piece, constantly tightening the grip around audience and performer. A piece that leaves you feeling unsettled and with that achieves its objective.

In “E2 7DS” Rafael Bonachela, associate choreographer with Rambert Dance Company, captures the essence of London living in a highly charged, emotional, contact-based duet. The empty stage turns into a harsh environment, where piercing sounds and bright lights create the backdrop for a couple struggling for closeness and intimacy: bodies melt and bounce back, embraces tighten only to be ripped apart, limbs cut through space to find each other in a passionately violent swirl of physicality. Bonachela’s movement vocabulary and formations seem endless, while his dancers, exposed and vulnerable, race through the steps flawlessly. The piece has a high professional finish and reaches resolution long before its completion; however, it is the realism that elevates the work, the tangible exhaustion of the dancers and the adrenaline rush of the moment. To end the climax with the physical collapse of the couple is rather obvious and ordinary, but “E2 7DS” touches a raw nerve that every London audience can connect with.

Clear lines, sharp turns, precise steps and ever changing formations are performed by seven members of the Richard Alston Dance Company in Martin Lawrance’s “Charge.” It is a smooth and professional composition, supported by the stunning lighting design of Charles Balfour -- coloured triangles spill out into the stage and add needed three dimensionality, while red lines on the costumes merge with red lighting beams on the floor. This mise en scene creates a truly beautiful piece, which is built on clear principles and has strong integrity throughout.

John Ashford closed the evening by announcing the five finalists of the Place Prize and acknowledging the hard work and endeavour that all choreographers had put into their work over the last few weeks. The finalists chosen by the jury are: Rosemary Butcher, Tom Roden and Pete Shenton, Bawren Tavaziva and Hofesh Shechter; the audience chose Rafael Bonachela, a choice supported by the jury.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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