The Place Prize has been lurching around in London for a while now, they have made it to the semi-finals stage, but unless you live in London and actually attend one of the performances you would probably never know it existed.
The Place themselves will probably give you several reasons, most of which are completely made up, about why the Place Prize is a good idea. Well, let's have a look at five reasons why it's not a very good idea at all.
How exactly one dance company manages to defeat another company is not fully explained in the online or offline literature for the competition. The very idea that one man's Shakespeare is another man's bird cage liner is lost upon the self important "judges". All of whom are under the misguided impression that their learned (allegedly) decision making process has managed to solve the timeless question of "what is art" or more precisely "what is good art" The answer to those questions is apparently giving someone a cheque for £25,000.
Initial rounds of the Prize are voted on by the audience. It's not a first past the post decision though (most votes wins) it's a ratings system. Each audience member scores each work out of five and the highest average wins the night.
There are four semi-finals but the winner of each night doesn't go through. The company with the highest average score from all of the performances is the only one that makes the cut. The others are decided, completely arbitrarily, by the "judges".
The main problem here is that the voting is over four nights but the same people, unless they come to all four shows, which is unlikely, won't see the same works. Imagine being asked to vote in an election when you only get to hear one candidate speak in a debate.
As for the judges picking the other four? If the judges are picking the vast majority of the finalists then where does that leave the idea of audience participation?
Also. If the companies have any sense then they will stack the audience with their friends to give them a five star rating and vote the other companies down to hurt their average. If you didn't do that then you're an idiot! Ethical? Yes! Smart? No!
The winner of the 2006 Prize, Nina Rajarani, told us that it costs more to actually make the work and show it at the Prize performances than the total amount of the prize money she actually won. It's like spending £100 on Lottery tickets and winning £10. If there is no financial advantage to playing then why bother playing at all?
Fake Press Coverage
The Place website states;
"We will try to ensure the maximum possible coverage in the media for the competition and the artists involved."
A quick look through Google and Yahoo reveals nothing more than boilerplate pieces in a few newspapers. No significant coverage to be found. Two years ago Article19 was offered interviews with some of the participants, which we accepted. The PR firm handling the event never bothered to set them up though.
Even the website for the event, built into The Place's own haphazard online presence, features no video material at all, apart from a ridiculous video montage featuring 1 second from every entry made to the competition (over 170 of them). If you want a self induced migraine then go knock yourself out watching that.
The evidence would suggest that The Place is not trying hard enough.
X-Factor/Facebook for Dance
It has probably not escaped your attention that almost everything these days has some kind of audience participation/voting element to it. Websites have comments, tv-shows have phone polls, websites have online polls, star ratings, popularity meters, etc ,etc.
The Londondance.com echo chamber even touts the Place Prize as
"a cross between the Turner Prize and the XFactor"
Leaving aside the fact that the Turner Prize is a joke that's not funny do you really want to be compared to the very worst of the "look at me" sector of society? TV talent shows are not something to aspire to, they are something to be derided. They are nothing more than hi-tech karaoke machines. A fast track to fame and fortune for those lacking the will power, skill and fortitude to do things the hard way. Something that dancers (the good ones at least) most certainly are not.
With the Place Prize are we suggesting that dance makers should seek popularity and nothing else? Are the companies that don't take part not worthy of our attention because they have not been subjected to "the vote"?
What of those companies that take part and lose? Should they slope off and take their place in the typewriter maintenance sector having failed miserably to impress the 300 people, if that, that bothered to turn up at the theatre and press the button marked "five stars"?
In short; The Place Prize doesn't make dance more popular, doesn't make better dance, doesn't make dancers more money, doesn't make dance companies more money, doesn't do anything that any other dance festival does a million times better.