Richard Alston Dance Company
'Out of the Strong', 'Lie of the Land', 'Roughcut'
by David Mead
April 5, 2011 -- The Curve, Leicester, UK
Watch some offerings these days and you might think that musicality has been long buried when it comes to contemporary dance. This year’s Place Prize season, which seems to be one anti-dance work after another, is a case in point. I cannot be the only one who sometimes starts to wonder ‘Where is the music?’ and especially ‘Where is the dance?’
For Richard Alston music and dance are inseparable bedfellows though. They do not get much closer than in “Out of the Strong”. Previously danced at The Place under the working title “Even More,” Alston’s choreography conveys the moods inherent in Prokofiev’s “Piano Sonata no.6,” itself very much a reflection of the composer’s personal and professional circumstances. The sonata was written in 1939, three years after Prokofiev had returned to Moscow after 16 years living in
Paris. He thought he would be better treated there than in France, but instead found himself with no artistic freedom at all, and then a victim of The Great Purge, when artists and composers lived in fear of their lives, and during which he was forced to write works of social realism, including a cantata titled “Hail Stalin.” It was also a time of family turmoil, like most foreigners Prokofiev’s Spanish-born wife Lina was having a particularly problematic time under Stalin’s regime.
In typical Alston fashion, “Out of the Strong” is far from narrative, although there is certainly more
than a hint of situation than usual, and not only because the dance is punctuated by the occasional
and very natural hug, embrace and playful slap. Pianist Jason Ridgway extracted every ounce of the
opening movement’s anger and frustration. Yet in amongst the anguish and strident dance there are
moments of lyricism. There is an overwhelming sense of yearning, as if looking to regain a freedom
that has been lost.
The dance slowly mellows before, in the second movement, taking on a much lighter, almost
playful mood. Andres de Blust Mommaerts and Charlotte Eatock were superb in a duet full of fast
spins and sharp changes of direction that reflected the now joyful socre. Highlight of the slow third
movement was a moving duet between Jordi Calpe Serrats and Hannah Kidd, before everything
came back together in a complex and exhilarating finale that so reflected the composer’s character.
The music was played live on stage by Jason Ridgway.
Martin Lawrence’s “Lie of the Land” is equally emotionally expressive, although rather more
acerbic. It’s a restless and unsettling and somewhat jagged piece in which a series of solos, duets
and trios come and go in response to changes Ned Rorem’s fourth string quartet.
For a finale it would be difficult to beat “Roughcut,” an Alston classic from 1990 that is full of
unadulterated vitality and exuberance. Danced to Steve Reich’s pulsing and effervescent New York
and Electric Counterpoints it is a busy piece for the whole company.
Both Reich pieces are scored for one live performer (Roger Heaton on clarinet and James Woodrow
on guitar) who plays with many pre-recorded layers of himself, thus forming an intricately woven
and textural whole full of overlapping canons. Alston makes great use of just such devices in his
choreography that is also full of his characteristic use of weight and off balance yet controlled
movement. The energy is non-stop. It looks fun to dance and it is certainly fun to watch. Dancers
constantly appear and disappear. Groups form and dissolve in seconds. I defy anyone not to be
exhilarated by the ride.
As if all that was not enough, at Leicester there was something extra special. The wings had already
been flown out when the curtain rose, but as Steve Reich’s pulsating music started the wall behind
was taken out too. At the Curve that leaves two huge floor to ceiling windows the whole depth of
the stage. While on one side we were treated to a view of a theatre corridor, on the other we could
see right through to the street outside, complete with the occasional car and people slowly passing
by. As if the music and dance was not expansive enough, the unusual setting and backdrop gave a
quite unique sense of space.
“Roughcut” was a breathtaking finale to a celebration of dance. Alston once said that he likes to
make “dances about dancing.” Hurrah to that! From the reception the audience gave his fabulous
company they felt the same way. If Alston’s dancers come to a theatre near you, don’t miss them.
Richard Alston Dance Company continues on tour. See www.richardalstondance.com for details.
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