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Richard Alston Dance Company

by Annie Wells

April 2, 2008 -- Brighton Dome, Brighton, UK

With an opulent line-up of three recent works, Richard Alston proved himself worthy of accolades that have compared him to Frederick Ashton and named him as one of contemporary Britain’s foremost dance-makers.

The thematically varied programme -- which also featured one work, “Brink”, by company Rehearsal Director Martin Lawrance -- was tied tightly by a number of common threads. While mainstays of distinctive movement, compositional adeptness and a unique sense of musicality were directly attributable to Alston, his ensemble of ten dancers gave consistently fine performances. Pianist Jason Ridgeway -- seen on stage at a grand in “Fingerprint” and “Nigredo”-- was also pivotal in the success of the evening.

The evening opened with “Fingerprint”, a 2007 work exploring the dynamic contrasts within the melodies of two of J. S. Bach’s early compositions – “Cappriccio in B Flat Major” and “Toccata in D Major”. In deference to a bygone spirit in the music, the overall impression of this nine-piece ensemble was noble and courtly. While the movement evolved from the exacting, tradition of ballet, innovative manipulations infused it with a vibrant contemporary relevance.

Variously grouped, the dancers performed Alston’s patterns in alternations of synchrony and counterpoint to each other and the piano. Equivalently lyrical and pure, their movement added a stirring visual dimension to the aural incarnations of sorrow, humour and joy. As the perfect embodiment of Cappriccio’s regretful goodbye, longing arabesques flowed like a core through the first section. Jonathan Goddard beguiled in the second as he leapt high into pike turns and permeated every inch of his body with an unending sense of motion.

He carried the attention through to “Nigredo”, a quartet that proved as intriguing as its inspiration. This collaboration between musician Simon Holt and Alston took an allegory from alchemy as its point of departure. According to this medieval form of speculative science, Nigredo is the instant of intense heat at which a base metal will transmute to silver or gold. 

With an impact enhanced by Helen Cain’s atmospheric lighting and Peter Todd’s brusque costumes, music and movement amalgamated to show that while scientifically naïve, the notion of alchemy is underpinned by a philosophical sophistication. As the enlightenment that can arise from the tortures of psychological desolation, molten bodies stretched from tightly hunched duets into illuminating moments of singular solidity. 

Added to an already significant body of work, “Brink” suggested that Lawrance could be well placed should Alston ever hand over RADC’s choreographic mantle. In this case at least, captivating musicality and demanding technicality very much located him in a comparable creative school. Todd’s costumes were the only grey shades in this quirkily colourful septet. Within the, at times, quite literal frame of Cain’s powerful lighting design, the dancers worked mainly in pairs. Maximising the composition’s potential until the taut climax of the final fade, their movement gave physical shape to each subtlety of unusual flavour in Japanese composer Ayuo’s “Eurasian Tango”. 

Alston’s most recent work “Shuffle it Right” provided a fitting grand finale. A delightful celebration of the drive, jive and swing in Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Billy-a-dick-tick-tock’ song rhythms, tAlson’s piece paid direct homage to the idiosyncratic, early 20th century, Southern American, singer-songwriter. With its own originality in no sense undermined, the seven song medley of invigorating interpretations may have sent some thoughts to particular aspects of Alston peer Christopher Bruce’s work. It could have also been the ghosts of US modern dance pioneers such as Graham and Humphrey who slipped by chance or with intention into Anneli Binder’s majestic last solo to Hoagy’s 1927 recording of “Star Dust”.

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