Hull Dance Prize presented by Hull Dance, has established itself as a regular feature on the city’s cultural calendar. For its third outing, the annual dance competition, moved from the Studio Theatre to the Main House at Hull Truck Theatre, reflecting the growth in popularity and increased visibility of dance in the city.
Two prizes are on offer to the companies competing, a Judge’s Award that comes with a £3,500 cheque and a smaller Audience Award of £1,500. This year five companies competed for the prizes, two were Hull-based; the all-female LO:CUS Dance Theatre and the all-male JoinedUp Dance Company. The other entrants all from Leeds, comprised of the theMiddletonCorpus the Rachel Clarke Company and Lydia Cottrell and Ben Mills.
Dan Craddock – former contestant – hosted the evening. His schizophrenic approach has to be seen to be appreciated: suit, tie and spectacles, all contributing to the geeky thespian routine. Before the interval the game-show warm-up shtick came over a bit cheesy, but the welcome appearance of alter-ego Danye during the second half, more than made up for a shaky start.
Audience favourites of 2015 LO:CUS began the contest with ‘Whistle A Storm’ their interpretation of the Harry Eddom story: the only survivor of the infamous Triple Trawler Tragedy. A spotlight stage right frames Tamar Draper, as she sings ‘Sweet Minerva’ written by Linda Kelly. Who knew Tamar had a voice? At the other side of the stage, Steph Potter, Carla Morrill and Lottie Hanson sway from side-to-side imitating the rise and fall of the boat. Using mime to bring in the catch and stack the sets. The choreography is underpinned by a filmic score by Joe Roper. The swell of the waves, characterised with elongated rippling of the upper body, competes with the swell of the music, as it rises to a prescriptive crescendo. The moment of separation, the loss of a shipmate,is brought to the fore: with each full turn, Tamar moves further away from the retreating group, the distance between safety and lost ever widening.
Questions will be asked about the endless picking of the psychic wound, a scab that refuses to heal as the years roll on and still the city tries to come to terms, with the lives lost and the devastating effect on communities.
With another stirring soundtrack, Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber (music best known as sound tracking the climactic end of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war epic Platoon) themiddletonCorpus, comprising of duo Isabel Slingerland and Anthony Middleton, showcased incredible acrobatic skill and strength with their close contact composition. Dressed in white to reference the ‘Cloud’ title of the piece, the two embarked on an increasingly mesmerising series of powerful lifts and holds, as the chorus rose to an angelic crescendo. I saw icons of classic Hollywood, in the statuesque figures – arms outstretched exalting the Gods: tableau vivant style. By choosing such iconic music it was that, rather than the connection and relationship between the two, that seemed to drive the emotion of the piece.
The third entry was the one with the shoes. A Question for the Audience by Rachel Clarke Company, exists in the space between dance and theatre. Dancers, Sarah Pringle, Alexandra Mettam and Kayleigh Price showed the audience different character traits, through a series of stage entrances each displaying different attitudes and personalities. The circling the space and subsequent jump, before exiting the stage, was at odds with the previously assumed character. The removal of heels, flats or heavy boots, heralded layered spokenword, with BSL cleverly woven into the choreography, sassy funk and thunderous rock n roll. The ‘conflict’ sequence became edgy, with repeated pushing and pulling, that quickened and grew more violent before fading to black.
The penultimate company and seemingly audience favourites judging by the amount of noise each time their name was mentioned, was JoinedUp Dance Company. The Mark Pearce choreographed and directed Big Shift Small Change didn’t live up to the hype. The choreography seemed tired and uninspiring the fast spins a highlight of a piece that comprised of solo and combined floor and jump sequences. The close contact work didn’t flow, phrases were broken up by a hand reaching out searching for the other, to initiate the next movement, the phone going off in the audience didn’t help to maintain the desired tension. Described, as exploring seismic change, the overall impression left by Joe Davis and James Danville was closer to a tremor than an earthquake.
The final pairing were Lydia Cottrell and Ben Mills and the explosive piece of dance theatre called ‘ATOMIC’. The glare of the searchlight picks out two battle-scarred goons in combat fatigues. The two embark on an exploration of military machismo with an S.A.S. training sequence, involving martial arts and militancy. High kicks and the obligatory vocalised machine gun sounds ended with a barrel-to-barrel, John Woo style Mexican standoff, that morphs into spaghetti western gunslingers. Inventive, highly original and unpredictable, the two performers create a multi-sensory experience, with sound and scent, a heady and, at times violent, mix that envelops the audience.
Then it was done. The judges were sent out to judge the audience had keypads to indicate their preference and host Dan Craddock released his inner dancer and delivered a triple pronged performance class to pass the time. The ballet sendup proved irresistible for some, as four intrepid audience members were put through their paces with mixed results.
How do you compare different schools of dance: contemporary versus dance theatre versus acrobatic? The judging panel was made up of three highly-regarded dance professionals: Jo Fong, Pete Shenton and Lea Anderson.
And the winner of Hull Dance Prize 2016? More success for LO:CUS Dance Theatre who scooped the Audience Prize, just as they did at last year’s competition. The Judges Award went to the rule-breaking ATOMIC much to the audience and Lydia and Ben’s surprise.
‘We were thrilled to once again receive the audience vote at this year’s Dance prize. Still being quite a new company, we are constantly learning things about ourselves, the way we work and create material, so for us, the dance prize platform is especially important as it’s a place where we can showcase this development. We feel as though we are maturing as a company and its very reassuring to know that the audience feel like we are moving in the right direction! Next year we will be applying for our first G4A from the Arts Council and feel like we are in a great place to do this after the success of this year’s prize. Thank you to all that came to support the prize; it is helping to encourage the dance development in Hull and it’s really important that we all do this together.‘ LO:CUS Dance Theatre
“Atomic is an idea that Ben and I have had brewing for a while it was wonderful to have the opportunity to share our ideas to an audience. We are pretty delighted that the work was received so well by everyone on the night. It is so great to know that Atomic will now have a future and will go into full development.” Lydia Cottrell