Richard Alston Dance Company: Alston at Home

Posted: June 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company: Alston at Home

Richard Alston Dance Company, Alston At Home, The Place, June 10

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujanin Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujan in Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

As a portrait of Richard Alston in the twentieth year of his company, Alston At Home shows his recent and current preoccupations with just one short work to anchor the perception of change over time. Without the revival of the miniature, Brisk Singing Duet danced by University of Michigan students Maeve McEwen and Michael Parmelee to the music of Rameau, the program shows an unfamiliar landscape on both the musical and the choreographic front. There are six works in all, three by Alston, one by Associate Director Martin Lawrance, one by Joseph Toonga and one by company dancer Ihsaan de Banya (the last two commissioned by The Place). Of the six works four are world premières.

Having just that afternoon seen the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty (highly recommended), what immediately strikes me in all these works is not simply the bareness of the stage but the blandness of the costumes. When Alston chooses to portray two Polish expatriate friends dancing to Chopin’s mazurkas in Mazur the inelegant costumes — a wan-coloured suggestion of a waistcoat by Peter Todd over army green chinos — immediately temper the emotional connection between the dancers and their context. If these are two friends ‘sharing what they love and what they feel they have lost’, their camaraderie is rather strait-laced; no vodka shots here, no dark passions or even live ones: the odd touch here and the odd look there are all that connect them. Take away the idea of Polish expatriates altogether and you have an interesting double concerto for two accomplished dancers (Liam Riddick and guest Jonathan Goddard) whose connection to the mazurkas (played onstage by Jason Ridgway on an elegant grand piano) is primarily through its rhythms rather than through any emotional content with which Chopin imbued his music. What is left is their angular, swirling movement and the precision of their musical phrasing in an otherwise bloodless setting.

The third work by Alston is a restaging by Lawrance of Overdrive (2006) set to Terry Riley’s score Keyboard Studies #1. It is, as Alston writes, ‘one of a series of works I made responding to the excitement and energy of pure rhythm.’ It requires you to sit back and concentrate which, as the sixth work and following the second intermission, is a tough call. But then none of the works this evening belong in that category of program ‘closer’ because they all congregate around similar pallid visual settings and emotionally purified choreography without beginnings or ends. Riley’s score — and Alston’s choreography — starts at a running pace and continues relentlessly till it suddenly stops. There is an intellectual rigour here, a physical argument in which Alston follows Riley’s structure, but the appearance of Overdrive is not so much paired down as dry.

Lawrance created his new work, Opening Gambit, as a birthday offering for Alston’s anniversary but it is choreographed on the muscular music of Julia Wolfe’s Dark Full Ride Part 1. It seems an odd coupling, one that celebrates Alston’s rigour but falls short of being a celebratory work. Lawrance has tamed the music rather than letting its natural force get away; he is helped in this by the capacity of Riddick to dance precisely on the musical beat without losing any detail (amongst the women Oihana Vesga Bujan shares this gift). Riddick brings a stillness to the heart of each movement, however quick, that gives each shape its full value. The opening line of ten dancers leaning nonchalantly against the bare back wall under Zeynep Kepekli’s lighting is the one inspired scenic element of the evening.

Ihsaan de Banya’s new work, Rasengan, begins as if he and the two other huddled dancers (Vesga Bujan and Nicholas Bodych) are standing in an underwater current, growing their small hand gestures to whole body undulations. The score by Ryoji Ikeda gives little for the dancers to feed off; the sound and the movement glide along on separate parallel paths. De Banya has pliant material to work with and brings out their physical attributes — Bodych’s never-ending back bend is an image that remains — but he is less inventive with the space in which they move and the dynamic patterns they create. He might want to take himself out of his future work so he can see the broader dimensions of his choreography.

Joseph Toonga’s Unease sets up a spatial intrigue immediately with de Banya alone in a corner talking to himself about something serious while four others stand in the opposite corner watching him. As he slowly sidles off stage deep in thought, the quartet moves as a counterbalance in a solo for four dancers that in its physical isolations has the appearance of muscular angst within a classical dynamic. Unease seems to trace the assimilation of de Banya into, and his influence on the quartet; Nancy Nerantzi is instrumental in her duet with him in winding him closer to the group until they are all moving together. Mirroring the beginning, the quartet with de Banya now sidles off in slow motion while one woman distances herself to dance alone but she too is drawn back into their rhythm before the work finishes in slow motion lighting.

Unease suffers from being too similar in feeling (though not in detail) to the other works on the program. Alston at Home is broad in solicitude for the future direction of the company but on this showing the forms of creative endeavour show a remarkable sameness. The musical choices may be one factor but there is also an over-reliance in the choreography on the purely physical nature of dance which under-exploits the musical and spiritual qualities of the dancers.


Richard Alston: 20th Anniversary Performances

Posted: February 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston: 20th Anniversary Performances

Richard Alston Dance Company, 20th Anniversary Performance, Sadler’s Wells, January 26

 Nicholas Boydich and full company in Rejoice in the Lamb

The idea of celebrating 20 years of his company with a retrospective program of highlights is not, I imagine, one that Richard Alston would countenance. But clearly a lot of careful thought has gone into the program at Sadler’s Wells — modestly titled ‘20th Anniversary Performances’ — that says less about the past than the present. Alston has created a new work, Rejoice in the Lamb, which receives its London première, and associate choreographer Martin Lawrance has his own London première of Burning in addition to Madcap from 2012. The remaining slot on the program is filled with the world première of Nomadic, a joint adventure in which Alston shares the choreography with dancer Ajani Johnson-Goffe. Those who prefer a more concentrated Alston program will have to wait for the company’s upcoming UK tour.

At the end of 2013 Alston produced an evening of work that celebrated the music of Benjamin Britten to mark the composer’s centenary. It was as much a celebration of Alston’s choreography as it was of Britten’s music because their sensibilities seem so well matched. Rejoice in the Lamb, which Alston created perhaps in that same flush of inspiration to Britten’s 1943 setting of Christopher Smart’s poem of the same name, opens under a pale blue light with a circle of dancers woven head to toe on the floor and a pensive Nicholas Bodych crouching like a luminous gargoyle to one side. He is Christopher Smart, 18th century poet and man of fervent religious faith who was susceptible to bouts of depression; his sustenance was music and poetry. He also had a steady companion in Jeoffry, his cat, danced here in tabby colours by Ihsaan de Banya. Smart and Jeoffry are the only two named characters; the remaining cast of five women and three men are possibly an expression of the joy and simplicity of Smart’s mind. As soon as Bodych begins to move, the measure of Alston’s own peace of mind is clear; there is a quiet economy in Bodych’s gestures, unadorned and free, that extends to the entire cast, giving Rejoice in the Lamb a serenity that the pastel colours of the costumes by Peter Todd and the lighting by Zeynep Kepekli enhance. Alston is evidently still in love with making dances and his dancers respond with a clarity that is a pleasure to see. This is quiet dancing with moments of stillness and humour; Alston does not have a repertoire of difficult steps but they are precise and when danced well, as they are by the entire company, they move effortlessly with the music.

Martin Lawrance’s Burning is a piece in the style of Alston but without his most endearing qualities. Set to Franz Liszt’s Dante Sonata played on a grand piano by Amit Yahav, Burning is about the composer’s relationship with Countess Marie d’Agoult (Nancy Nerantzi) and his many other liaisons with adoring women. As soon as Liam Riddick (as Liszt) begins his introductory solo it is clear we are in for a bumpy ride; Lawrance’s choreography is simply not on the same plane as the music. Not only that but he translates Liszt’s relationships into bruising, harsh duets that read as serious abuse. Lawrance may have historical evidence to justify it but if he does he is imposing this on the music and it jars. Gestures and dance are separated from the music, solos begin without narrative intent and there’s just too much choreography that gets lost on the floor. Burning may well refer to Liszt’s passion for Marie but it is expressed in the music rather than in the dance.

Nomadic is Alston’s first-ever joint choreographic venture, but his stake in it is unclear. Co-choreographer Ajani Johnson-Goffe, who also dances in it, has an idiosyncratic way of moving that separates him from the rest of the cast; when he dances the choreography makes sense, but when his movements are embodied by others it doesn’t. Alston’s dancers weave their patterns and their duets tirelessly but the energy of Nomadic is drawn down by an internal gaze that give the impression the dancers are listening to the music of Shukar Collective through earphones. What is missing is a sense of cohesion, that intangible element that nomadic tribes must cultivate in their wandering lives.

Alston offers the place of honour on the program to Lawrance’s Madcap, set to ‘possibly two of the most challenging pieces I have ever tackled’ by Julia Wolfe (Lick and Believing). Just as with Liszt’s Dante Sonata, Lawrance’s choreographic form tends to write over the music with his ideas rather than delve into its structure and some of the elements that weaken Burning reappear here: a concentration on highly physical male solos (for de Banya and Riddick) in a company of lyrical women, an overdependence on floor work and an unsettling violence in a duet between Nerantzi and Riddick. This is not a natural closer to an evening of dance, let alone to a 20th anniversary of what Alston and his dancers have achieved. Whatever the reasons for the order of program, the memory of Alston’s beatific Rejoice in the Lamb eclipses what follows.