Hull Dance Prize made a welcome return to the cultural calendar on Thursday 22 October. Despite the two year hiatus, the audience packed out the studio theatre at Hull Truck again. I estimate the event could have been sold twice over, due to the amount of people still wanting tickets.
The four companies competing for the cash prize of £2,500 differed in number with a trio, a duet, a quartet and a solo performer. Each piece was very different in approach, content and tone.
Opening the show was professional dance company JoinedUp Dance. The trio performed a piece called 1+1+1 which contained three defined acts. They began with a curious joy as the three dancers moved quickly, with energetic synchronised leaps.
The interaction and relationship between the three was engaging, with both Jon Beney and David Layne cajoling and then challenging the ‘initiate character’ Ben Gillespie. A muscular piece with many impressive lifts and a curious animalistic prowling motion across the floor. Were the two on either side, hunting the other?
The lighting changed and the mood darkened. A stylised fight sequence, ensued beneath the reddish hue. Highly entertaining work. There was much theatre and heightened emotion in this opening piece choreographed by Mark Pearce and Jon Beney. Due to the injury of Matthew Jay Pratt, Jon had to step in and perform the dance at very short notice. To their credit, this last minute change in line-up, did not show at all. The piece finished with an attractive pyramid pose.
Next on stage LO:CUS Dance Theatre with ‘Meet Me in the Place Between Right and Wrong‘ They marched in single file on to the stage to La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf. Each of the four dancers were wearing felt head coverings, that looked like oversized Russian hats.
I surmised that this was something about the blindness of experience, an inability to predict future events. It also meant for the first section the dancers’ bodies and not their faces, had to convey all emotion. I also don’t know how much the quartet could see of each other if at all, so this blindness, makes the piece all the more remarkable.
Head coverings came off, partners were swapped via detailed locomotor patterns. Musical swing and sway sequences emerged. As the dancers leapt and spun in unison and canon, the skirts on the long dresses twirled in dramatic fashion. I recall an intense moment where the pair nearest me performed a holding/pulling apart sequence as one tried to escape the other.
It took a while, but I determined the piece was the embodiment of different layers of co-dependency. The aesthetics of the dance emerged, as a story was told through strong gestures, signifying shifting and complex emotions.
I reacted strongly to the final sequence where two pairs conveyed, conflicting emotions in the one scene. The first pair showing, ‘I love you so much I’m killing you,’ the second pair, ‘The more you throw yourself at me, the less I care.’
A moment to mention Hull Dance Prize 2015 hosts Non Applicables, a performance duo who use dance theatre in their practice, to explore social issues with laugh out loud results. I am familiar with Sian Myers and Fenella Ryan‘s comic back and forth – Fenella beautifully gauche, Sian full of vinegar.
There were a few timing issues (mostly to do with the judges taking an age to pick the winners) so the two had to fill for a while. I think maybe a more scripted performance of hosting, would have worked better. Sometimes it didn’t feel quite like an act. However they rescued the situation with comic timing and the obvious chemistry between them. They were funny, the audience were laughing. I remarked to my neighbour, ‘They are just adorable.’
With no word of explanation (intentional) the Sarah Roe piece Intussusception began. This was a much more technical piece than that which had gone before. It was a slower piece with much more focus on the body and the way it moves. The two dancers Alexandra Mettam and Maria Popova showed immense strength and poise, sustaining almost impossible lift sequences. They did not use their faces to express emotion, rather they let their bodies tell the story. There was an emphasis on transition as one movement shifted very deliberately into another. The choreography by Sarah Roe allowed the duet to express something deeper, something inner, something anatomical.
Brief research on the name of the piece, reveals an ‘intussusception’ to be a rather unpleasant sounding medical condition, where the inversion of one cell or organ takes place within the other.
The music, a droning soundscape suited the intensely physical exploration. The compositional balance – use of the space – was good, the two demonstrated clear awareness of each other. The close body sequences were excellent: energy transferred from one to the other.
When they moved in tandem across the floor, it was as if the floor had become fluid, such was their response to the surface. Even to my uninitiated eyes, I could see that this piece was on another level.
The final entry into this year’s competition was by performance artist Dan Craddock. He describes Rhythm is a Daniel as being ‘conscious parody‘ … all I know is that it is very funny and he had the audience in fits throughout. He presents himself on stage in a black leotard and announces he is going to take a dance class and we – the audience – are his students.
The origins of time, the universe and the history of dance are all summed up in an animated tale about Goole, of all places. Later there will be audience participation, peacocks, chanting and feathers. The performance is a delight and Dan oozes charisma: from the ridiculous opening shimmy, to the abandoned way he bounces off the walls towards the end.
Rhythm is a Daniel has to be seen to be understood and appreciated. It works because of Dan’s absolute conviction, his unyielding belief in the material and his ability to make it funny. ‘Is he just taking the piss out of dancers?‘ asked someone sat behind me who didn’t get it. I could tell that the rest of the audience – particularly the dancers – found his sending-up of all those precious and much-learned aspects of dance, hilarious.
And the winner is…
The judging panel consisted of Dance professionals Rita Marcalo, Pete Shenton, and David Watson of Hull 2017 UK City of Culture team.
When judging the four pieces the panel were looking for the following:
- A clear physical idea
- A composition that did not feel rushed. (Choreographic rhythm, is important; it allows an audience to think and feel, during a performance)
- Evidence that the dancers had thoroughly explored an idea.
With that criteria, it was clear there could only be one winner and that was the Sarah Roe company. They receive the £1,500 Judges Prize.
Sarah Roe (Choreographer) Judges Prize Winner:
My years spent living and working in Hull had a major impact on me – particularly with regards to the dance work I make and would like to make, therefore, it was a very special moment winning the Hull Dance Prize. The prize money and support offered by Hull Dance will allow me to continue making new work that advocates the exploration of the body as an artistic and political site for dance practice.
The £1000 Audience Prize was won by LO:CUS Dance Theatre a newly formed Hull dance company.
LO:CUS Audience Prize Winners:
As a brand new company it was very humbling winning the audience vote of the hull dance prize. Ultimately, when making a new work, it is the audience’s acceptance of the piece that matters the most, as they are the ones we make the work for. We are still finding our feet as a company so to get this recognition so early on in our journey means a lot, and hugely encourages our next developing steps as a group. The money and support offered by hull dance will allow us to develop and mature as a company and bring further work to the wonderful audience of hull.
‘Hull Dance Prize 2015 was a roaring success‘ Dan Craddock said after the show.
Knowing that there is an audience for contemporary dance in Hull, stands the city and Hull Dance in good stead to build upon this success and look towards expanding in 2016/17. With this audience building in mind, there are two more dance events taking place before the end of the year as part of the newly devised Hull Dance programme.
The first being Danza! November 26, Hull’s annual showcase of contemporary dance, being held for the fourth time at Fruit on the marina.
Then December 4 a new incarnation called FLESH devised by Sian and Fenella from Non Applicables inside Kingston Social Club on Beverley Road, Hull. FLESH will be a public platform for dancers to stage ‘scratch’ performances of unfinished work. The BAC (Battersea Arts Centre) ‘scratch’ approach has worked very well for theatre in Hull, in recent years. There is clear evidence ‘scratch’ performances help to build audiences and increase the visibility of performance arts.
For more Hull Dance News see HullDance.com and keep up to date on Twitter @HullDance
all images courtesy Sarah Daniels