by Stuart Sweeney
November 20, 2003
Unattributed image of Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe
Jane Pritchard has written an excellent guide to The Place, “Our History”. So in this article, I give a complementary reminiscence of some of my own experiences of this wonderland for contemporary dance lovers.
I discovered The Place in the late 60’s by accident. A friend of mine was going out with a dancer from one of the earliest UK contemporary groups, Moving Being, and I went to a performance, which I found interesting and even played volleyball with the Company on the stage after the show. Cinema was my Big Thing at the time and I saw a few films at The Place's Saturday evening screenings, which were a feature of the early days at the venue. Then I moved out of London and for the next decade my dance going was restricted to occasional visits to see Rambert.
After a spell living in Devon, I returned to London in the early 1980s and began to attend Sadler’s Wells and The Place. Special offers meant it was a good idea to buy lots of tickets and I quickly saw a wide range of work. It was clear that the diet at The Place was more adventurous than Sadler’s and I saw eggs fried on wooden chairs and a girl jumping up and down to the rim of a bath, as well as more conventional dance. At that time I worked for a Bank and I was usually the only member of the audience in a suit; thus The Place provided me with part of an alternative persona, which I'm now happy to live in full-time. Since then I have been a regular attendee at The Place and it remains one of my favourite venues to see dance. It would be very dull to list all the performances I have seen at The Place over the past 20 years, even if I could, but here are a few that particularly stick in my mind.
In 1985, I went along to a Dance Umbrella performance by a US company that had stirred interest on an earlier visit. The Mark Morris Dance Group certainly made an impact and most of the works stick in my memory with the most remarkable, “Lovey”, to music by pop group the Violent Femmes. The aggression and shock value of this work is unique in the Morris oeuvre and The Place gave me the chance to see this work from the now world famous Company.
In the late 1990’s I saw Rosas perform “Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich”. This early work, danced by the original duo of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and Michele Anne De Mey, provides a dance analogue to Steve Reich’s minimalist music and the tension generated by the repetitions of music and movement was a special experience. Later the same year, “Fase” was the centrepiece for the Gala celebrating 25 years of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, but The Place provided London audiences with the opportunity to see this key work in the development of European post-modern dance.
In the new century, I have seen Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe twice in the Robin Howard Theatre, as the auditorium is now called. Mantsoe draws on his family roots in shamanism, tribal customs and his own experiences in South Africa to create extraordinary dances where technique and expressive intensity combine to make it possible to watch him perform solo over the space of an evening without losing interest. In my view, he is one of the finest dance artists working today and is among several remarkable performers from Africa who appear at The Place.
The Place continues to be a vibrant centre for dance. Resolution! gives a chance for young choreographers and companies to show what they can do and a chance for audiences to see the hits of tomorrow and a number of misses, but that’s the nature of a festival that presents 100 new companies. Its importance in the development of contemporary dance cannot be overstated.
I also stray beyond the theatre from time to time. Videoworks has one of the most extensive libraries of modern/contemporary dance films available in the UK and is invaluable for research. It includes recordings of most of the performances at The Place, edited from two cameras. The Place Café is one of the best places for cheap eats and coffee in central London and there is often someone there to say hello to. In recent years a close link has developed between The Place and CriticalDance and I was delighted to see a link to this website on the handouts for the Dance Umbrella 2003 performances. Maybe someday I’ll even do a dance class there.
Apart from its strong part in my dance education and its continuing importance as a centre for contemporary dance at affordable prices, I tend to look upon The Place almost as a club where I see people I know and admire. With the rebuilding programme completed a couple of years ago, The Place continues to go from strength to strength and long may it continue at the forefront of European contemporary dance.
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