September 14, 2008

Fingers on Buttons?

By Jenny Gilbert

Dance Place Prize Semi-Finals Robin Howard Theatre LONDON

'It's like being on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" exclaimed my neighbour, inspecting the gizmo he'd been handed at the door. This hardware enabled each audience member to award marks to each of the five items in this Place Prize semi-final. There was an official judging panel, too, comprised not of the top dance bods you'd expect to find adjudicating the biggest choreographic contest in Europe, but of movers and shakers from other disciplines, the designer John Pawson and poet Lemn Sissay among them.

The snag with most such competitions is financial and circular. How do your budding and, by definition, hard-up Russell Maliphants and Wayne McGregors find the wherewithal to design, score, light and costume a public performance, let alone persuade equally hard-up colleagues to rehearse it, on the slim chance that it might net the 25,000 prize so they can be paid?

Thanks to sponsorship by Bloomberg, the Place Prize, now in its third edition, selects entries at the ideas stage, then puts up the resources to make them happen. And in the case of Chisato Minamimura, who is deaf, those resources were unusual. A Japanese Sign Language interpreter to intercede at rehearsals? No problem. A British signer on the night? Hey presto, one was found.

The premise for Minamimura's piece was interesting: to query the nature of a deaf person's response to sound. The choreographer has been deaf all her life, so her experience of dancing to music is not like most dancers'. In Canon for Duet, she visualised sound as a tangible thing, alternately fluttering and elusive, like an escaped bird, or menacing, hard and alien. Her cast of two, matched like peas in a pod, cut stark, beautifully synchronised poses, using just their hands, vibrating so fast they were a blur, to suggest the physical phenomenon of sound. Projections of striated light played tricks on their body surfaces, turning 3D into an impression of 2D, a graph responding to pitch and volume. Am I left any the wiser about a deaf person's feeling for music? Maybe not, but the piece was none the less intriguing.

Simon Ellis's solo, by contrast, was one for the ears. Gertrud told the story, through real diary entries, of an Austrian choreographer born in the 1890s who survived the Anschluss only to be haunted by the question of whether the legacy of a creative life could overcome evil and death. Ellis was on to something here, but he muddied his pitch by introducing other voices, including his own. It was fascinating enough to hear a historic practitioner speak from beyond the grave.

I'm afraid the merits of Very, by Robin Dingemans, eluded me. Very sapphic, very energetic, but deadeningly repetitive. Plus the music should have come with a migraine warning. Unlike the ensuing score for a Japanese ghost story, Ichi, by Saiko Kino. Performed live by strings and drums, Alies Sluiter's music wound up the propulsive tension to such a pitch that at one point the couple, joined at the wrist, crouched and spinning, resembled an Olympic discus at the point of release. Briefly thrilling.

But the audience vote, and mine, too, went to Aletta Collins's fiendishly fast, maniacally funny Lap Dancer. The title is a quip in itself, as the solo for Rachel Krische, dressed in office shirt and tie, tracked the inane commands of a laptop computer over the course of a day.

At first, it was Krische who seemed to be calling the shots, swaggering in macho triumph as (s)he learnt (via Street Furniture's brilliant sampled score) that (s)he'd scored on eBay, emptied the inbox, or successfully completed an on-line loan application. But bit by bit, human patience wore thin, the electronic will prevailed, and we were left with emotional meltdown. I look forward to a second viewing in this week's final.

(c) 2008 Independent on Sunday, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.