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Richard Alston Dance Company

'The Devil in the Detail', 'Shimmer', 'Madcap'

by David Mead

October 16, 2012 -- Derngate, Northampton, UK

The idea that contemporary dance should be all about the realisation of music in movement is something that increasingly seems to pass choreographers by. It is, though, a notion that has served Richard Alston well for over 40 years. Just what a master at putting steps to music he is was clear for all to see in this evening of hugely watchable, sophisticated dance.

Alston’s “The Devil in the Detail” is about as musical as it comes. Set to seven Scott Joplin rags played wonderfully by Jason Ridgway that propel the dancers back and forth across the stage, it has an infectious joyousness and lightness that cannot help but put a smile on the face. It’s as if the dancers have been let off the leash. We see them as individuals as they tease and flirt with each other, and have a good time.

Alston and his dancers are masters at making the difficult look easy, and that’s certainly true here. The steps are sometimes fast and intricate as they play with the rhythms in the music. The attention to detail is striking. Every section is packed with delights, although a favourite has to be the Stoptime Rag duet, danced here by Pierre Tappon and Nathan Goodman. It has a sense of friendly competition about it as each seems to say, “anything you can do…” When it came to leaps, though, there was only ever going to be one winner. Tappon’s springs into the air were so big, clean and effortless that on several occasions the audience quite audibly gasped.

As engaging as Alston’s dance is, in “Shimmer”, danced to selections from Ravel, it’s the costumes that constantly take the eye. All the dancers, men and women, are in glittering meshed dresses reminiscent of spiders’ webs designed by Julian Macdonald that really do shimmer in the stage lights. This is Alston in more thoughtful mood. “Shimmer was originally made in memory of art critic Bryan Robertson and reflects both his lively enthusiasm for art and the sadness felt at his loss. There’s a strong emphasis on classicism throughout. It starts all bright and light. In the opening duet to Sonatine, Hannah Kidd and Pierre Tappon were like two fireflies dancing in the half-light, their skittish movement sometimes interrupted by juicy lifts. But as things progress there are bright and light on the surface, but there are hints of different moods to come. Sure enough, later duets to pieces from Miroirs and a deeply moving solo are altogether more sad; at times even haunting. Jason Ridgway’s playing was again exemplary.

Completing the programme, Martin Lawrance’s “Madcap” is right at the other end of the dance and music spectrum. It’s a full-blown attack on the senses. Julia Wolfe’s music, composed for Bang on a Can All-Stars is fast and frantic, full of aggressive guitars and violent screams. The high-octane, edgy dance is equally powerful and reminiscent of an urban wasteland.

Nathan Goodman’s opening solo was packed with intense energy. High speed movement with more than a hint of the street was suddenly and constantly interrupted by moments of absolute stillness. His strength and control was extraordinary. It then opens out into a breathless dance for seven, who never let up for a moment. There are hints of fights and chases. At one point the dancers repeatedly drop to the floor and scuttle forward on all fours. Then, out of nowhere comes a beautiful, yet rather dark and menacing duet for Liam Riddick and Nancy Nerantzi. It’s all quite stunning and a real treat. If you get a chance, don’t miss it.

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