Dance: Review: Place Prize 2012 semi-final 3


Nina Kov – Copter ; Neil Paris The Devil’s Mischief ; bgroup – A Short-Lived Alteration of an Existing Situation ; Darren Ellis Revolver

Another packed house greeted the halfway stage of the 2012 Place Prize semifinals on Thursday night, eager to spot the next big thing in dance among the third group of prize commissions. Tuesday’s semifinal saw h2dance’s Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard throw down a hefty challenge for the audience choice with their winning score of 4.1 – would they be outvoted by any of tonight’s artists?

Never before on stage has the love between woman and helicopter been depicted so movingly. Nina Kov’s duet for herself and a tiny remote-controlled chopper, Copter, is an engaging and sweet play between the dancer and a mechanical object animated to appear like a living creature. Kov herself begins crouched on the stage, clad in a green leotard and hood like some modern-day forest nymph, sliding her remarkable body around the stage as if through bushes and bracken. When the copter (piloted by Jack Bishop) appears, it seems shy and flittish, hovering near Kov only to dart away again. The copter choreography is beautifully vital: the tiny beast swoops and spins, circles away backwards and loops the loop, finally landing in Kov’s outstretched palm. Allow yourself to go with the premise, and there’s something quite magical about this unusual piece.

It took a six-person team of technicians from The Place ten minutes to set the stage with a landscape of pointy paper hats for Neil Paris’s duet The Devil’s Mischief on Thursday night. It wasn’t worth it.

Like all good love affairs, bgroup’s A Short-Lived Alteration of an Existing Situation (choreographed by Ben Wright) begins with a loud clang of noise and a sheet of red light pouring from the rafters. Dancer Sam Denton shifts his around a fashionably stygian pool of light, worrying at his wiry limbs and hopping on and off the floor to a throbbing electronic pulse. The splendidly-named Lise Manavit joins him in the spotlight for an itchy, elbow-thrusting duet that slowly melts into a lush piece of contact work accompanied by a billowing Rachmaninov prelude, performed live by pianist John Byrn. It’s a portentous title for an honest and authentic work about relationships, a depiction of the changes that take place between two people in the blink of an eye. Manavit and Denton come together and roll each other across the floor; she steals his nose; he pushes her away. A Short-Lived Alteration…is a beautifully-realised depiction of the squalls and squabbles that animate human contact, performed with great sensitivity by both dancers and pianist.

Perhaps it’s the two guys with telecasters and Marshal amps on stage; perhaps it’s the girls’ white polo-necked minidresses; perhaps it’s the repeated arm-swinging gestures and the driving, guitar-drone score; but there’s something very Judson Theatre about Darren Ellis’s Revolver. Based on a simple, narrativeless movement principle (the two dancers rotate clockwise around each other for twenty minutes ) Ellis’s piece has a certain unfussiness of form; choppy swipes and sudden spirals break into mesmeric repeating step patterns. The swings and circles are strongly reminsicent of early Rosas, and indeed some sections resemble Fase cut up, paused and rewound on an endless jerky loop. The quality of the performance is not in question – dancers Hannah Kidd and Joanna Wenger hold their taut lines and meticulous unison for twenty demanding minutes – but I can’t help feeling we’ve seen this experiment carried out before, and better.

bgroup’s impressive score of 4.0 wasn’t quite enough to knock h2dance from the leading position for the audience vote, but with four works still to come and a judging panel to impress there’s still everything to play for.

Place Prize Finalists announced

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Dance: Review: San Francisco Ballet Programme A

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's 'Divertimento No.15' © Erik Tomasson

Programme A: Divertimento No. 15 (Mozart / Balanchine); Symphonic Dances (Rachmaninov / Liang); Number Nine (Torke / Wheeldon)

America’s oldest repertory ballet company, San Francisco Ballet, makes a welcome return to the UK this week with its first visit in eight years. The company’s West-coast base is reflected in its healthy mix of white, Hispanic, Asian and mixed-race dancers, but there’s an East-coast feel to this first programme, with contributions from New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine, former NYCB soloist Edwaard Liang and resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.

The oldest work leads the programme.Divertimento No 15, created in 1956, is Balanchine in tutus and tiaras rather than Balanchine in unitards, and displays the great man’s skill with musical detail. Set to a Mozart chamber piece of the same name, the choreography reflects the simple complexity of Mozart’s music. Flashing feet and dainty hand gestures pick up runs and flourishes in the music; just as the delicate arrangement of then score leaves no room for error, so the movement at once appears effortless while leaving the dancers totally exposed.

The central series of solo and duet variations best illustrate this principle; each dancer must connect an exacting sequence of piqués and passes without pause, hitting a line here only to move on to another and another as the music flows on. Frances Chung makes beautifully light work of her solo and really looks as if she’s enjoying herself up there; Davit Karapetyan whirls through his leaping solo with an energy and wonderful precision of which Mr B himself would surely have approved.

At the other end of the programme, Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine plays generous tribute to the Balanchine style. It’s there in the grids of performers stepping lightly through conveyor belts of quicksilver footwork and airy arms; it’s there in the big battements for the girls and buoyant leaps for the boys; it’s there in the acid-bright leotards and rehearsal skirts, and in the shade of International Balanchine Blue on the back cyclorama. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of homage, and Number Nine is a vivacious short work with lots of charm that has both audience and performers breaking out in smiles.

The centrepiece of this opening bill is Edwaard Liang’s Symphonic Dances, a long abstract work set to music by Rachmaninov. The piece opens with a pleasing, flame-like motif; dancers dressed in diaphanous gold and orange flicker over the stage with sweeping arms and deep curving arches. Where Balanchine’s choreography (and Wheeldon’s after it) revels in the illusion of simplicity, Liang’s doesn’t even pretend to be easy. Instead, it’s leg-splittingly, back-bendingly, toe-tippingly difficult, full of motifs in which female dancers leap from the floor straight into arcing cantilevered balances which must have taken hours in the studio to perfect.

There’s no question that Liang’s work challenges this company of fine dancers, and that they rise to the challenge with consummate grace (Yuan Yuan Tian is particularly ravishing in her languid duet with Vito Mazzeo). But a few minutes of this elegant eye-candy is more than enough to satisfy; and Liang’s piece continues for many more than a few minutes.

Mixed bills are designed to appeal to a range of tastes, and I’m sure there was appreciation in the audience for the studied languor of Liang’s full-bodied piece. But the dazzling intricacy of Balanchine’s classic work coupled with the sheer flair of SFB’s performance was the evening’s winner for me.

San Francisco Ballet are at Sadler’s Wells until Sunday 23 September with three mixed programmes. Full details:

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