Out of the Strong, Lie of the Land, Roughcut
Richard Alston Dance Company
The Curve, Leicester; April 5, 2011
Watch some offerings these days and you might think that musicality has been long buried when it comes to contemporary dance. The present 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.This review, with images, will appear later in the magazine.Richard Alston Dance Company continues on tour to Salford, Nottingham, Shrewsbury, Glasgow, Oxford and Woking. See Richard Alston tour dates for details.