Last week, I was a part of a jury which unanimously awarded the bi-annual Place Prize For Contemporary Dance. We gave the prize, worth £25,000, to the dancer/choreographer Riccardo Buscarini.
The field was strong, each work unique in its own way. But Buscarini stood out. On the surface, his 'Athletes' is about competition. The dancers dance athletes who demonstrate to one another and to us their prowess and grace, and fragility. Watching them is like watching the Olympic Games of last summer. You feel the same awe, the same respect and wonder at the ways that the human body can perform. There, in this dance piece, you feel the same marvel at the dedication, the focus, the drive that every great athlete must have. For dancers and athletes it is, in the end, all about mind-in-body and body-in-mind. You have to dedicate your entire life to it.
Buscarini gives us all of this in a largely silent meditation. For most of the time, there is no sound emanating from the stage except the ambient noise of the theatre space itself. Buscarini knows that we, the audience, are there. We are watching. We are also building our own story, too. This is what he wants. He lulls us into a dream of our own fantasy prowess. Then suddenly the Love Theme from Hitchock's Vertigo explodes, taking us out of ourselves, enveloping us and the dancers . It is an awesome, utterly unexpected moment.
The choreographer states that his piece is a kind of homage to Kubrick's 2001; A Space Odyssey. No surprise there. 'Athletes' gave me the same feeling that I experienced decades ago when I first saw 2001, a film that no one could have been prepared for. This dance piece has the same feeling of coming to grips with mortality, fragility, of time passing, and infinity. Like Stanley Kubrick, you can feel this choreographer's utter dedication, his complete self-belief. To watch the work of Buscarini is to be in the presence of someone for whom these feelings are 100% justified. His choreographic maturity - he is still quite young -marks him out as more than that tired old clichéd phrase "one to watch". This guy is the total business. And more.
He takes Bernard Hermann's Liebestod from the movie voted by film critics as the greatest ever made, and re-interprets it at a profound level. Vertigo, made at the peak of Hitchcock's mastery, the supreme statement of his obsessions and his art, is totally unpacked by Buscarini in less than 10 minutes. He makes you go right back and watch the picture all over again.
Contemporary dance, like contemporary music and art and theatre and fashion, is not for everyone. Not yet. Contemporary is seldom 'accessible'. But it is necessary. Without it, art , culture itself, will fossilize, become decadent, and die.
Riccardo Buscarini will set the pace for many, many years to come.Catch him now. So that you can say that you were there. At the beginning.