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True Listening

Richard Alston Dance Company

by Donald Hutera

October 2002 -- The Place, London

For the first time in its eight-year history, Richard Alston’s company is taking the stage at Sadler’s Wells. What’s more, at £5 a ticket some audience members will have an up-close-and-personal view from the front of the stalls. The triple-bill includes "Touch and Go", set to the classic modern tango compositions of Astor Piazzolla; "Rumours, Visions", Alston’s interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s song cycle "Les Illuminations"; and "Stampede", a new Umbrella commission driven by medieval Italian music arranged and played live by Dufay Collective. "Stampede" is for the whole company of twelve but revolves around two extended duets, one for Sonja Peedo - recently joined after dancing for Small Bones and Jeremy James - partnered by Martin Lawrance, Alston’s long-standing interpreter and colleague. The other is made for Davina Given, fresh from Scottish Dance Theatre, and Antoine Vereecken.

Vereecken, born in Gent in 1977, is in his second season as an Alston dancer. Prior to that he danced in Israel with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. During the third week of rehearsals for Stampede, I spoke to him about the joys and challenges of dancing à la Alston. “It’s great in many ways, very different from what I used to do. It’s much more technical, but more importantly Richard builds it all around the music. First he shows us and we imitate. Then together we change it. The results are quite exact but we’re very much involved in how we get there. Richard listens to us, to what we’re comfortable with. He tries to explain what kind of feeling he wants and what sort of imaginative world the music conjures up.

Our dance is a formal Estampie, [hence, the slightly tongue-in-cheek title - DH] a medieval dance which starts quite gently but builds to a frenetic gypsy-like climax as the other dancers join in. The music for Martin and Sonja’s duet is sadder; it’s called the Lamento di Tristano, and the sound of it is not only mournful but very Eastern.”

Alston comments: “The Moorish influence on the European medieval world was very strong and the way the Dufays play these pieces is very gutsy and sort of exotic. I’m very excited to see the Dufays and all twelve dancers on the big Wells stage.”

This interview was posted by Stuart Sweeney on behalf of Donald Hutera and first appeared in Dance Umbrella News.

Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance and arts for The Times, Evening Standard, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Magazine (US) and Dance Now. He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.

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