Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: April 4th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition at Sadler’s Wells

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Sadler’s Wells, March 7 & 8

Richard Alston Dance Company Voices and Light Footsteps
Jennifer Hayes, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler, and Ellen Yilma in Voices and Light Footsteps (photo: Chris Nash)

It is perhaps too soon and too delicate to unpick the accumulation of political and economic decisions that have led to the premature closing of such a renowned cultural entity as Richard Alston Dance Company. Alston has known for the past two years that ‘my Company simply could not continue beyond this Spring’, and for someone who admits to have been ‘entirely lacking in any sort of strategic plan’ over his fifty-year choreographic career, he has managed to end with remarkable prescience. The latest run of performances has finished just one week before Sadler’s Wells closure for (at least) the next three months to comply with the government’s guidance on containing the coronavirus pandemic. In the current climate, Alston’s company may well feel relieved that its calendar of adieux has been able to run its course and finish in style; if there is such a thing as a good death, this is it. For Alston, however, there is no intimation of mortality; on the contrary, in the last two years he has created some of his best work and has built his company to technical and expressive heights. 

This Final Edition is the last of several national and international performances by the company; the choice of program is as much a retrospective as a statement of current form. The earliest work is Isthmus from 2012 to the music of Jo Condo, followed by Mazur from 2015 to Chopin mazurkas played on stage by long-time collaborator, Jason Ridgway. Two younger recruits to the company, Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis, get inside the music and its relationship to the choreography to create an emotional portrait of elegance and close friendship. Three works on the program date from the past tumultuous year: Bari for the graduating students of Alston’s alma mater, London Contemporary Dance School, Voices and Light Footsteps and Shine On. First performed by the students at the Alston At Home program at The Place, Bari is inspired by the pizzica music of the Puglia region in southern Italy. Alston’s mastery of form and pattern partners the liveliness of the musical rhythms to create a gem of choreographic construction — not so much a translation of the traditional pizzica dance as a transposition of the earthiness in the music. Music has always been the motivation for Alston’s choreography, the source from which both the rhythm and the style of his movement arise. In Shine On, he returns to one of his favourite composers, Benjamin Britten, for the collection of songs On This Island set to five of WH Auden’s poems; they are sung by Katherine McIndoe accompanied by Ridgway. Alston enters the work through Britten’s joyous opening fanfare, but Auden’s pessimism casts a long shadow that Alston — as well as lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli — alternately rejects and absorbs, most poignantly in the central Nocturne where Niall Egan and Harriette express the pain of a love that must remain in the shadows. After this vein of darkness, Martin Lawrance steps in with his own contribution, A Far Cry, set to the elegiac Introduction and Allegro for Strings by Sir Edward Elgar. It is in effect a paean to Alston from the opening fanfare to its triumphant coda, embracing elements of his style within Lawrance’s own characteristic rush of energy. In the ecstatic entrances and exits there is a sense of a continuation well beyond the stage, embracing all that has gone before and all that is yet to come. 

In the final work, Voices and Light Footsteps, Alston transcends any sense of darkness by returning to another of his favourite composers, Claudio Monteverdi, and through the music to the early seventeenth century period in which he lived. Not only are there traces of courtly Renaissance dance in the work (it is dedicated to the memory of Alston’s historical dance teacher, Belinda Quirey), but emotions and virtues that have supported him through difficult times appear to be subtly embedded in the choreography. Each member of the company has their own light and colour but their individuality is sublimated to the harmony of the whole. Voices and Light Footsteps is spiritually uplifting and visually stunning, with costumes by Peter Todd under lighting by Lawrance; its central duet, danced on alternate nights by Monique Jonas and Elly Braund with Shikkis, is its crowning achievement. The work ends, significantly, with Monteverdi’s Damigella Tutta Bella, which Alston notes ‘is the earliest music I can remember hopping around to as a small boy.’ TS Eliot could have written the epitaph with the last line of East Coker: ‘In my end is my beginning.’

Dancers in Richard Alston Dance Company for this Final Edition: Elly Braund, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler, Joshua Harriette, Jennifer Hayes, Monique Jonas, Nahum McLean, Nicholas Shikkis, Jason Tucker and Ellen Yilma.


Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Posted: February 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Resolution 2017, January 28: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré, Stephen Quildan

Marie Astrid Mence in a publicity photo for Not Hard (photo: Jack Thomson)

Bridget Lappin last year toyed with dual notions of exposure and concealment in The Art of Exposure and for this year’s Resolution she explores the dual notions of femininity and animality in Who’s Afraid of a Pussy Cat? Lappin is clearly drawn to paradoxes and she moves between them with her natural gifts of sensuality and strength. Here she takes her fascination with paradox to a sexually provocative level, conflating animality and femininity in a seamless line from forest to go-go bar, from faun to lap dancer. But there is a difference between embodiment and posture; Lappin indicates her inner paradoxes without fully expressing them and because of the sensual nature of dance in general and her performance in particular, she is partially successful. She seems to be aware of this paradox within a paradox for at one point she deliberately invokes Nijinsky’s portrayal of a faun in which, by all accounts, the separation between performer and animal was scandalously fine. Despite her best efforts (but not helped by her utilitarian costume of flowered bra and pants), Lappin’s own femininity maintains a distance from her animality, leaving a regret that the two are not more fully and selflessly integrated.

A recording of Nina Simone’s 1976 performance of Feelings at the Montreux Jazz Festival is the starting point for Mathieu Geffré’s What Songs May Do. The idea is that his two dancers, Angela Boix Duran and Joseba Yerro Izaguirre, are attending the concert in real time and their duet is the affect of Simone’s performance on their relationship. The beginning works beautifully as Duran and Izaguirre seem to arise out of the audience and walk languidly on to the stage to Simone singing Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas. This looks like a preview to a romantic duet but Simone’s Feelings brings out both tenderness and irritation, expectation and rejection in the couple: the feelings start to run amok. While Geffré’s title prepares us for this altercation between the musical and the physical, the latter starts to take on a separate existence; there is a section of locked bodies on the floor and another with dramatic runs and lifts that are effective in themselves (both dancers are totally immersed in what they do), but lose their choreographic relation to the music. Simone’s concert continues, applause and all, while Duran and Izaguirre become embroiled in a Bauschian tangle too reminiscent of Café Mueller. Our attention has been drawn away from what songs may do to the couple to what the couple is doing to the songs.

The final work comes wrapped in Rambert livery with Rambert support. The opening gambit of Stephen Quildan’s Not Hard is a well-constructed conceit that takes the entire piece to unravel. At the opening we watch two immobile, macho figures in bulky leather jackets, baggy pants and hats pulled well down on their heads changing positions and poses in a series of closely controlled, hazy blackouts (great lighting by Joshua Harriette). The first intimation of movement is an entrance by one of them on a BMX bike. The arrival of a ripped Lucy Balfour in red swimsuit and fashion backpack clears the haze but leaves us none the wiser as to where this is all going. The slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony may be a clue but it sits incongruously next to a hilarious lip-synched version of Lethal Bizzle’s Pow (Forward) by the trio of Balfour, Vanessa Kang and Kym Sojourna dressed by Quildan himself (who also wrote some of the music). The glossy production values with which Quildan juggles seem inspired by fashion photography — Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin spring to mind — and slick music videos, and he wraps them in the format of a social media event in which the scrolling visual content carries the message. Not Hard finishes with Balfour standing very close to the front row of seats holding a two-litre bottle of water in each outstretched arm until her toned muscle strength fails and one bottle falls after the other. It becomes a metaphor for a work that relies so heavily on its visual strength.