The latest mixed bill from the Richard Alston’s Dance Company consists of a typically varied and balanced programme. The performance opened and closed with Alston’s own works: one a new work for this season, the other a revival of a popular signature piece; these preceded and followed the showcasing of a work by a rising protegee of Alston and a work by an esteemed teacher of his.
The night opens with Alston’s newest work, Unfinished Business, referring to the haste with which the Mozart K533 (played live on stage by Jason Ridgeway) was composed. In contrast, the choreography however is smooth, assured and lyrical. The dancers are dressed in simple, neat costumes of grey and neutral shades. Both the opening Allegro and the closing Gigue open with a male soloist (Liam Riddick) who is then joined on stage by first one pair and then a second. Interposed between these is a poignant duet – recalling a lovers’ tryst – for the excellent Anneli Binder and Pierre Tappon. This is one of the most beautiful moments of the whole evening, the most satisfying section of a generally pleasing work.
Opening after the first of two intervals was, Other Than I, is a short duet for Anneli Binder and Hannah Kidd by the Company’s rehearsal director, Martin Lawrence, who has also revived the closing Roughcut (and also several other classic Alston works in previous seasons). It is set to Couperin and explores shadow and self, as the two dancers at times amplify, at times follow and at times watch each other’s movements.
The theme of shadows, this time inner rather than external shadows, continued in the next work, a revival of Robert Cohan’s In Memory. This is an outwardly simple but very powerful work – for me the highlight of the evening – set to Hindemith’s haunting Sonata for Unaccompanied Viola.
Four male dancers dressed in blue perform under blue light, creating an atmosphere of melancholy, suspense and otherworldliness as they circle around each other in a seamless and collective series of interaction, perhaps evoking collective unconscious. Into this bursts a solitary red-clad female dancer, who separates one of the four males from the group in what appears to be siren-like seduction. However after this apparently tantalising encounter, she leaves the stage and he returns to his original group. Does she leave him ? Does he choose to return to the preferred security of his familiar environment ? The audience is left to ponder these questions.
A different single female figure then enters, this time dressed in indigo, and pairs initially with another of the four males. This time the interaction between them is more ambiguous; pushing apart and pulling together by turn, the earlier duet’s happiness is now changed to tension. Finally, the indigo figure is lifted aloft and carried prone off-stage by the remaining three males. A similar ambiguity surrounds this departure: does she represent a past lover who has died? Has she been removed from the scene by the dancer’s fellows, jealous of this distraction? Apparent peace descends as the quartet return to where they left off, but the power of Cohan’s work leaves the audience with more questions than answers. The choreographer himself says of the piece: ‘sometimes in strange situations, for no apparent reasons, very deep personal memories occur which have been buried in our past. We live and dream them – then go on with life.’
After this intense and reflective minor-keyed work, the performance as a whole ‘goes on with life’, closing with the exuberance of Roughcut, a signature work by Alston created in 1990. Set to the pulsating rhythms of Steve Reich’s minimalist classic ‘Electric Counterpoint’ (played live) and with an industrial design, it was a piece made to celebrate the energy and vitality of the young dancers Alston was then working at Rambert (where he was artistic director for over 20 years). Alston says of this work: ‘The throw-away energy of the movement is anchored by a very specific use of the body’s weight and pull, and this emphasis has to be there to properly articulate and syncopate the music’s intricate rhythm.’ This kind of choreography has become a hallmark of Alston’s style and this piece retains its enduring popularity.
- The Four Temperaments / Untouchable / Song of the Earth. The depth of emotion in ballet.
- …in the middle with you. Childlike joyfulness.
- Serenade/Carmina Burana. An odd coupling.
- Modern Masters. Sublime synchronisation.