Richard Alston Dance Company in Final Edition at Snape Maltings

Posted: November 8th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company in Final Edition at Snape Maltings

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Snape Maltings, November 1

Richard Alston, Final Edition
Joshua Harriette and Monique Jonas in Brahms Hungarian (photo: Chris Nash)

There is a natural link between Richard Alston and Snape Maltings through his long association with the music of Benjamin Britten, while his particular style of dance relishes the space afforded by the extraordinary stage area with its brick walls as precipitous as a cathedral nave and as expansive as a concert hall. Alston’s aesthetic seems to value the sanctity of choreography and music without wanting to divert too much attention from it, presenting his company like an orchestra on a concert platform — which is why Snape Maltings works so well for him. For the theatrical element, lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli washes the brick walls with colour while she enhances the clarity of the dancers against the grand scale of the space. But as soon as she inserts her own individuality, as in the rectangle of light she creates for Ellen Yilma and Jennifer Hayes at the end of their duet in Shine On, the image of a tomb seems too overtly representational for Alston’s choreographic imagery. Costumes for the men tend towards a puritan ethic, casual and utilitarian without embellishments, elegant variations on tracksuit pants and sleeveless tops, where bare arms show off Alston’s love of drawing and carving figures in space. The women are more colourful, especially in Brahms Hungarian where Fotini Dimou’s floral patterned dresses move around the body with a joie de vivre inherent in Brahms’ folk-inspired music. In Voices and Light Footsteps, Peter Todd’s costumes and associate choreographer Martin Lawrance’s lighting work together like a painting, where Alejandra Gissler’s red dress is the dynamic equivalent of one of JMW Turner’s painterly red marks. 

Alston’s choreographic style, derived from his two major influences of Sir Frederick Ashton and Merce Cunningham, combines a sparse but reverent classical technique with a romantic, flowing use of the upper body; his vocabulary is not broad but the interest and integrity of what we see is supported by his impeccable musicality that in turn demands the same of his dancers. Personality makes up for a lot in the present company, but musicality is not what it was when the likes of Liam Riddick and Oihana Vesga Bujan were performing, though Elly Braund is still there as a valuable guide. In watching the dancers there’s a suggestion of too much tension in the arms that at speed does not support Alston’s flow of the upper body, and a tendency, especially among the men, to land too heavily. There is something sensuous about soft, pliant landings that goes a long way towards bringing the choreography and the music seamlessly together.  

Over several years Alston’s company has had its portion of Arts Council funding to The Place — where it has been resident for the past quarter of a century — successively reduced to the point he feels he cannot run the company to the standards he needs; the present tour is called Final Edition. On the program is a relatively new repertoire, with two works from this year (Voices and Light Footsteps, and Shine On) and two from 2018 (Detour, and Brahms Hungarian). Voices and Light Footsteps, to a selection of Monteverdi madrigals, balli and sinfonia, sees Alston’s choreographic invention soaring with the music, creating a series of courtly dances that sweep up the voices into the air; there is a joy about the work that belies the tumultuous year in which it was created. Lawrance’s Detour, played out to a percussive score by Akira Miyoshi for solo marimba, is a contrast both in its dynamic pace and in the predominance of masculine energy; it features whipping arms and legs in a fast and furious choreography with brute overtones of anger and frustration.

Shine On, to Britten’s early song cycle On This Island for piano and voice (performed respectively by Jason Ridgeway and Katherine McIndoe), is clearly dark in tone, drawing its choreographic line from WH Auden’s poetry that begins with a fanfare (Let the florid music praise!) and turns through the haunting Nocturne to irrevocable loss (As it is, plenty). The symbolism is evident, and yet Alston returns in the finale to the opening musical fanfare with the dancers finishing in a reverence towards the public. Alston dedicates the work to Lizzie Fargher ‘whose enthusiasm for dance (and music) has sustained and encouraged me every time I have been to Snape and to Dance East.’

In closing the program with Brahms Hungarian Alston shows his undefeated spirit with a suite of dances to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances for solo piano that Ridgeway plays with gusto. As Alston remarked stoically after the final applause, “I love this place and I’m not going to say goodbye!”


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.