Founded in 1969, The Place quickly became the fountainhead of a youthful British modern dance movement. This mammoth 40th-anniversary gala, directed by Place alumnus Aletta Collins, involved some 70 performers in excerpts of pieces both old and new, spliced with voiceovers and film extracts. Inevitably, it was a somewhat insiderish event, and had a scrapbook feel, with snapshot scenes variously representing performance, training and creation.
It was nevertheless an education and an eye-opener. It began with José Vidal’s 2010 Loop, featuring a wriggly Moebius strip of grungily clad dancers stripping to their underwear, then jumped to grainy documentary film from the 1970s in which the clothes were more eye-catching than mere flesh. The evening showed how much actions have changed as well as appearances. Excerpts of 70s pieces as different as Robert Cohan’s mystical Forest, Richard Alston’s formal Combines and Siobhan Davies’s feline Sphinxall had a centred, sculptural quality very different from more recent action-driven work; it was as if you sensed the skeleton of the dance more strongly than the skin. These pieces made me wish modern dance kept more of its own heritage alive.
The Place’s current artistic director, theatre director and chief executive all appeared alongside the evening’s performers in the finale, a re-creation of Victoria Marks’s Dancing to Music. With the bare minimum of movement, this quiet, compassionate piece evoked complications, compromises, failures and perseverance – a harder but more deeply felt vision than any upbeat gala-closer would have been.