Review: Richard Alston Dance Company At Home - The Place

Performance: 3 - 6 October 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 4 October 2012

'Isthmus' Elly Braund Photo: Toni Nandi

Shimmer/ Isthmus / Darknesse Visible / Madcap
Reviewed: 3 October

My last sighting of the Richard Alston Dance Company was in the spring when it filled Sadler’s Wells both in terms of audience capacity and stage space. Now, it is back performing ‘at home’ in the much more intimate surroundings of The Place’s Robin Howard Dance Theatre. Their repertoire is finely tuned to be successful at either end of this scale but the particular familiarity of the company performing to a home crowd, especially one so full of students from the London Contemporary Dance School, cheering on three of their recent alumni now dancing as apprentices with the company, gave the evening a fresh and vibrant energy.

There were two substantial works at either end of this programme, joined in the middle by bite-sized capsules of Richard Alston’s work, one of which was a reprise of Isthmus , the party piece made earlier in the year for Bob’s Bash, in honour of the 70th birthday celebrations for dance film producer Bob Lockyer and the other a new solo made for this season entitled Darknesse Visible . The former is a very small bite indeed, lasting just a few minutes to the tinkling sound of Jo Kondo’s eponymous composition, but it proves to be a delicate morsel full of delicious images. Isthmus is for a quartet plus an outsider with the four dancers opening the work in a series of inter-connected and simultaneous solos before coming together in a group. A minute or so into the performance and the outsider arrives to take over in a solo which the others watch. It seems to be a work without gender requirements since I’m sure that I saw it before with three girls and two guys, whereas here the balance tips towards the men. My favourite miniature movement comes just before the end when two couples dance in harmonious, playful unison ending with their arm aloft in an identical pose. Darknesse Visible is set to the music of the same name by Thomas Adès , in which the charismatic Pierre Tappon performs a solo dance that is offset by darkness and shadow (very effectively lit by Zeynep Kepekil).

The programme had opened with the revival of an Alston classic, Shimmer, originally made in 2004 as a tribute to the deceased art critic, Bryan Robertson. Alston had been drawn to the piano music of Ravel for this piece because it had been a particular comfort to Robertson in the last months of his long battle with illness. For this revival, the choreographer has been able to extend this beautiful elegy to his friend by including a section to the last movement of Ravel’s Sonatine, adding to its first two movements and three pieces from Miroirs.

The seven dancers wore gorgeous, gossamer tunics made by Julien Macdonald and covered in Swarovski crystals (more of which have been added to create extra shimmer for these performances). The delicacy of these costumes is matched by the gentleness of Alston’s lyrical choreography which is both a paean to the importance of the plié and an emotional outpouring of ideas that switch mood from sadness to exuberance in a heartbeat.

There are three fascinating and different pas de deux with the opening pair (Tappon again, with Hannah Kidd) appearing like two woodland sprites emerging as night turns to dawn, floating over the morning dew, her arms and legs folded around him with their skittishness slowing into halting lifts. Charles Balfour’s lighting design bounces off the Swarovski crystals to create dazzling ripples like pebbles skimming across a moonlit lagoon. Jason Ridgway played the Ravel pieces superbly and the arresting luxury of the whole spectacle was enriched by the outstanding quality of the dancers’ performance.

One of the dancers in the premiere of Shimmer was Martin Lawrance and it was his work, Madcap – another world premiere – that closed the show. Beginning with a marathon floor-based solo by Nathan Goodman it was choreographed to the funk-styled music of Lick and Believing composed by Julia Wolfe for the Bang On a Can All-Stars. The down-and-dirty, frenetic earthiness of the Lick sequence was in all-encompassing contrast to the poetic beauty of Shimmer. A terrific, intense energy was passed on from Goodman’s solo to the ensemble of six other dancers before leading into a passage where Liam Riddick appeared to be inspecting the troops. This then segued into the Believing piece with its dark and sensual duet for Riddick and the ever-appealing Nancy Nerantzi.

The two substantial works on this programme could not have challenged the dancers more in terms of their variation in style, the shading of darkness and light, sadness and excitement and yet the small ensemble met these complex demands with matchless enterprise and an absorbing panache. The three new apprentices (Oihana Vesga Bujan in Shimmer, Monique Smith McDowell and Andrew Macleman in Madcap) blended seamlessly with their more experienced peers and gave the “home crowd” something even more special to cheer for.

Continues at The Place until Saturday 6 October, then touring the UK until December

Also catch:
Wolfe: Adventures in Sound, 7.30pm, Thursday 11 October
at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall

Martin Lawrance on Madcap

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