The Place Prize semi-final 3

Posted: September 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Place Prize semi-final 3

photo: Benedict Johnson

The Place Prize semi-final 3 (Nina Kov, Neil Paris, Ben Wright, Darren Ellis), The Place, September 20

There’s a buzz of excitement in the front row as we notice a model helicopter on the very front of the stage. The copter’s blades flutter briefly in response, perhaps, to the stage manager calling ‘places’ just before the lights go down. Nina Kov, choreographer and the other performer in Copter, settles down on the floor in the dark. The first flood of light projects a silhouette of the copter on to the backdrop, to a suitably throbbing, reverberating soundscape by Paul Child that sounds as if it was recorded in the depths of a real copter. Then our little star whirs into action within its own spotlight. Copter is essentially a duet and solo variations between Kov and the copter, thanks to the pilot and battery charger, Jack Bishop, (who remains in the wings throughout). Lucy Hansom lights the stage perfectly to keep the diminutive, buzzing copter visible at all times as it flies its missions. Bishop can land the copter on Kov’s hand, fly it between her legs and fly it just out of reach when Kov tries to retrieve it. As you may have guessed, all the attention is on the copter, which Kov imbues with character by virtue of her interaction with it. At one point Kov rescues the copter, sets it on its skids for it to make its escape, and at another she blows it from her hand, like a bird. At times her arms appear to command the copter, and at others the trajectory of the copter influences hers. We easily forget that it is Jack Bishop in the pilot’s seat. The closest we get to being inside the copter’s eye is when Bishop pilots a sturdier model to carry a tiny camera that projects images on to the screen. So much for the copter; but what of the participation of Kov herself? If her final, heroic image of whirling around a large blade above her head is meant to suggest a transference of life from the copter to the human, Kov’s movements have not prepared us sufficiently to make this jump of the imagination. Her movement phrases bear little relation to any evolutionary process, and her costume (by Alice Hoult) belongs more in the studio than on the airfield. There is something, however, in the interaction between Kov and the copter that works; Bishop is a skilled pilot, but can he teach Kov how to fly?

In the pause, the stagehands place lots of milky-white conical paper hats on the stage with seemingly random precision. It’s like a designer moonscape, lit by Aideen Malone. The backdrop is a light red digital projection by Dan Tombs with a floating amoeba-like image at the top that makes me feel I’m looking up at the surface of the water from inside the tank. It’s the last time I notice it. Carly Best creeps in wearing an identical conical hat with a big letter D. None of the other hats on the stage seem to have letters. Best surveys the hats, crouching down to examine them as if visiting a graveyard. Sarah Lewis enters from the other side; she has a G on her hat. Dolce and Gabanna? No, the Devil and God, for this is Neil Paris’s The Devil’s Mischief, based on the book of the same name by Ed Marquand.

There is an obvious tendency to see the two women as punished schoolchildren sent to sit on their stools in their respective corners, but their identities suggest a broader scenario: instead of being the dunces, they are the progenitors of this sea of ignorance and common misunderstandings that divide them. Having arrived in their separate roles, in similar styles and colours of clothes (by Kate Rigby), they now realise, rather sheepishly, that it’s time to resolve their differences and act in unity. With palms up, Best steps among the cones, carefully at first, but as her confidence and assurance grow her limbs start to dislodge the cones in jabbing, fleeting spasms of emotion that have the quality of a human puppet – Petrouchka comes to mind. The more phlegmatic Lewis, overcoming an initial hesitation, joins forces with her erstwhile rival and they manage to overturn many, but not all the cones. There is very little physical contact between the two, but at the close of The Devil’s Mischief, the caps of G and D touch in a gesture of solidarity and embrace.

Paris’s choreography and the accompanying music – the beatless soundscape of Stars of the Lid’s Apreludes (in C Sharp Major) and Jolie Holland singing the hauntingly beautiful ballad Rex’s Blues – together create a dream-like meditation on the nature of good and evil (how closely those words resemble god and devil), too open-ended to go through to the final of The Place Prize, but a lovely essay on form that will, I am sure, resurface somewhere else in SMITH dancetheatre’s work.

Ben Wright’s bgroup entry is another essay, Short Lived Alteration of an Existing Situation, on a theme of the common ephemerality of dance and music, according to Wright’s entry video. He talks of ‘playing with the moment where sound and movement respectively move away from and into the constancy of silence and stillness.’ The stage has no edges, apart from the light that Guy Hoare provides, which is soft at its circumference, suggesting infinity beyond. The inside of this circle of light is an arena, in which Sam Denton and Lise Manavit perform. To begin with, a red curtain of light (suggested by Alan Stones’ sound with Hoare’s dramatic lighting) cuts off our visibility of the interior, and as it fades we see Denton on all fours crawling forward, animal-like, then running backwards in his circle of light and coming to an upside down stasis on his shoulders and head. The primitive imagery continues with Manavit’s beating her chest, rippling through her torso, and rather dispassionately engaging with Denton as they test and extend each other’s limits. There is a moment when Manavit picks Denton up from flat on the ground to rest on her lap, an amazonian feat that, for sheer power and fluidity, takes the breath away.

It is difficult to avoid ascribing a narrative to the action, and it is probably not what Wright is interested in here. For ten minutes he creates a flow of movement that ‘defies the inevitable pull of gravity and immobility’, just as a musical phrase defies silence. There is very little movement for movement’s sake in Wright’s duet; one phrase flows thoughtfully into another, without the use of choreographic prepositions, creating a flowing, sculptural dynamic which he sustains in silence. Then there is a magical moment when John Byrn’s playing of the opening chords of Rachmaninov’s Prelude (in B Minor, op 32 No. 10) merges with the movement like a swimmer entering water. The emotional quality of the Prelude seems to affect the two dancers, or, to be more accurate, to affect my interpretation of the relationship of the two dancers. What is clear is that the music and dance are mutually reinforcing. This change is perhaps the short-lived alteration of an existing situation in the title, which continues until the repeated, sonorous note at the end of the Prelude after which the curtain of light comes down once again and the duet fades into oblivion. I feel Wright still has ideas he wants to develop in this work; he will, but for now he has left us with a miniature gem of pure dance that needs an appropriate setting.

Darren Ellis’s Revolver (from the Spanish, not the wild west) is just that, a sequence of turning motifs, always clockwise (I read that; I wouldn’t have noticed) by two unstoppable dancers, Hannah Kidd and Joanna Wenger to a rock guitar accompaniment by The Turbulent Eddies. The two guitars provide the constant (read relentless) rhythmic patterns, within which Kidd and Wenger perform their variations. Costumed in white phosphorescent dresses and tops (an in-house collaboration between Ellis and Kidd) and lit by Lee Curran, they begin a first, accelerated sequence in strobe lights (to slow it down) followed by three more sequences that get gradually smaller and quieter. They then extend the first sequence, and with a change in the music, they each move to their respective circles of light, executing sequences in harmony, in counterpoint, adding to them, varying them, and changing direction, but always in a clockwise direction. That and the guitar thrust are the two constants, apart from the energy of Kidd and Wenger that flows out from the stage into the audience. Ellis suggested in his original submission that the two women would transform and morph into one another, a concept taken from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, but the psychological nature of the idea has been dropped in favour of a purely physical treatment within a mathematical framework. Impressive as Kidd and Wenger are, one wonders what Revolver might become with a Bergman treatment.