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The Turner Prize for dance?

3 September 2012 | Charlie Kenber

Now entering its fifth iteration, The Place Prize has invested over £1 million into contemporary British dance, generating 92 original commissions. It has successfully launched the careers of numerous artists, and continues to act as a much-needed stimulus for new work. No surprise then that many have been calling it ‘the Turner Prize for dance’...

If there was a Turner prize for dance, what would it look like? Well, many reckon that the Place Prize gets close: founded in 2004 the competition pushes funding into new commissions from emerging artists, skyrocketing careers and generating fresh, innovative work. If you’ve ever heard of Rafael Bonachela, Adam Linder, or Ben Duke & Raquel Meseguer of Lost Dog, then that is likely thanks to the Place. Eddie Nixon, Director of Theatre and Artist Development since 2009 tells us, “It is one of the biggest sources of commissioning for short work. So in that sense it has supported a lot of creativity.”

Out of the Prize’s open, anonymous application process sixteen artists are commissioned to produce an original work. These pieces are presented in a series of semi-finals, and then a winner is chosen from those who progress to the final. It seems inevitable then that a competition which provides such investment in the creativity of emerging talent has earned its Turner Prize label. “The comparison is inevitable”, Eddie notes, “the prizes are on a similar scale and they both encourage new ideas by artists who are not yet part of the mainstream and so inevitably some of these are really innovative. The Place Prize differs because entrance is by application and because it also commissions new work from the selected artists. There are also audience prizes.” In addition, the open entry process introduces unknown artists to the place, which can often lead to future collaborations.

On top of the £100,000 provided for all those commissioned to produce their work, the prizes constitute a substantial financial investment in the winner’s career. On top of a £25,000 judge-awarded prize, additional awards of £10,000 are dished out based on audience voting. “We want an audience that is explicitly involved in thinking about what they watch and trying to understand why one piece of work might resonate more for them than another. Also, sometimes they have completely disagreed with the panel of judges and that is pretty interesting to think about.”

Such funding clearly boosts the winner’s career, however the prize also benefits all those who compete. Eddie explains, “It’s a lot of money and the winners have all used what they have won to support their career development – whether that was investing it in starting their own company, funding an international tour or as a resource for researching new work. The profile of the winner certainly gets an enormous lift but in many cases the other finalists and semi-finalists get plenty of new opportunities in the UK and overseas as a result. Whilst inevitably it hurts a bit when someone else wins, I think that most of the artists would say they have gained a lot from the experience.”

In times like these, the continuation of high-level funding projects for emerging practitioners keeps the industry not just alive but innovating, and Eddie certainly recognises its importance. “I think projects that encourage new work, without too proscriptive an agenda, are pretty crucial right now, especially in arts organisations. We need to actively not play safe.” More broadly, the competition’s creation is also about generating wider awareness: “it was about trying to draw the attention of the public and media to the fantastic new contemporary dance work that is created in the UK as well as providing artists with a different model to create new work.”

Of course, such competitions would not be possible without large benefactors, who prove implemental in maintaining funding and profiles – for the Prize that benefactor is Bloomberg. “Creating 16 new works this way is a risk. They have been unswerving in their commitment to creating new dance and engaging people in watching it and they deserve enormous recognition for this.”

So, if you’re looking for innovative new dances from the emerging voices of the British dance world, get yourself down to The Place for the 2012-13 competition’s series of previews and semi-finals.

The semi-finals of the Place Prize take place from 6th – 22nd September at 8pm in the Robin Howard Dance Theatre at The Place. Tickets from £9 for previews, and from £14 for semi-finals.

Prizes will be awarded during the Finals, in April 2013.

Image credits: Goddard Nixon (Spring Loaded 2012) Eric Richmond, and Moreno Solinas (Spring Loaded 2012) Gaspar Teri

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