Dance to the music of modernity
Richard Alston Dance Company Seen at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh; Playing Theatre Royal, Glasgow, November 23 Rambert Seen at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh; Playing His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen February 15-17, 2018
RICHARD Alston, acclaimed choreographer and artistic director of his own celebrated dance company, is one of the true gentlemen of the dance world. A fact that was further attested to in Edinburgh, where his company played on September 22.
A long-time patron of youth dance in the UK, Alston invited the Re:Volution Youth Dance Company from Inverurie to raise the curtain, not only on the Edinburgh show, but on the entire autumn tour. Before the youngsters’ performance, Alston came on-stage to praise the energy and invention of their piece, which is entitled Into The Shadows.
He was entirely justified in doing so. The Aberdeenshire youth company showed tremendous technical ability in presenting an exciting, sharp work which bristles with tension and cooperative ingenuity.
The London-based Richard Alston Dance Company (RADC) itself tends to stand at the gentler, more balletic end of the contemporary dance spectrum. There are no pointes and no tutus, but nor is there much of the high modernist experimentalism of the likes of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal or (stars of August’s Edinburgh International Festival) Nederlands Dans Theater.
There is no value judgment contained within this observation. In fact, there is something rather charming in what one might call the quasi-balletic contemplation in Alston’s work.
The reflections in the programme presented in Edinburgh were primarily musical in nature. The opening piece, a world premiere entitled Carnaval, is danced to Robert Schumann’s lovely piano composition of the same name (which is played dexterously, live on stage, by Jason Ridgway).
In the midst of the splendour of an early 19th-century ball, the young Schumann exposes his beloved, young wife Clara to the two sides of his personality; which he named Eusebius (his cool, centred self) and Florestan (the wilder, uneasy aspect of his character). On a stylishly minimalist set, which is lent a period grandeur by five chandeliers, Clara (danced beautifully by Elly Braund) is charmed by Eusebius (the excellent Liam Riddick) and, quite literally, swept off her feet by Nicholas Bodych’s wonderfully combustible Florestan. From a polarised human personality to the contrasting and pleasingly compatible musical styles of Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten in Chacony. Purcell’s very English rendering of the baroque musical form known as “chaconne” is followed by Britten’s equally English, yet strikingly modern, composition, which references the work by Purcell.
The starkly colourful, impressively simple sets and costumes combine perfectly with a choreography that (like the music to which it is danced) emphasises contrast, continuity and control. It is performed (and, notably, concludes) with an understated sense of drama.
The most explosively dramatic work of the evening, however, was Alston’s Gypsy Mixture (a 2004 piece restaged here by RADC’s associate choreographer Martin Lawrance). A celebration of the effervescent and diverse cultural life of the many communities of travelling and Romany peoples, it is made of high-octane dances to six pieces of fast-paced dance music from the extraordinary album, Electric Gypsyland.
Gloriously informal and celebratory, breaking suddenly from precision to freedom, Alston’s diverse choreography will, surely, delight its Glasgow audience as thoroughly as it did dance lovers in Edinburgh.
Broad though his choreographic palette is, Alston has nothing on contemporary dance company Rambert (which is also based in London). Styling itself “Britain’s national dance company”, the group offered the Festival Theatre audience an extraordinarily varied programme.
The first piece, A Linha Curva (The Curved Line), is a fantastically bold, dynamic, carnivalesque homage to the music and dance of Brazil.
The Dutch percussion quartet Percossa sit in an elevated box at the back of the stage. They perform an original score developed with choreographer Itzik Galili in Sao Paulo.
The music, played on a startling array of instruments and objects (and upon the bodies and faces of the musicians), is a brilliant artwork in its own right. Echoing not only Brazilian carnival but the many cultural influences in Brazil and South America, its subtleties and explosions are perfectly in tune with Galili’s choreography.
The dance itself is quite unlike anything I have seen on a theatre stage. The vivacity, colour and humorous competitiveness of carnival are evoked by dance which is so celebratory that it sometimes seems almost instinctive.
However, that sense of spontaneity is reined in by the piece’s extraordinary discipline and control. The tension between these elements creates of truly immense energy and sensuality (indeed, the work is equally homosexy and heterosexy).
Symbiosis (choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis, with music by Ilan Eshkeri) contrasts radically with the warmth and heat of A Linha Curva. There is a cool, almost sci-fi aspect to the piece, visually, musically and choreographically.
Dancers dressed in neutralcoloured costumes that might have been inspired by fish move in a beautiful, almost mechanical harmony, whether as a corps or in duet. However, in other moments, individual variations suggest a jazz-like improvisation, which suits Eshkeri’s classical, jazz-inflected score perfectly.
“What a waste of great dancers,” exclaimed the disgusted man sitting behind me at the close of Goat, the third and final piece on the Edinburgh bill. It wasn’t difficult to understand his disgruntlement.
Choreographer Ben Duke’s piece, set in a mocked up community hall, belongs to the modish, postmodern strand in contemporary dance in which dancers talk into microphones and the ugly “movement” seems hostile to the entire history of dance. A reflection on the performing arts as therapy (or something), it is self-conscious navel-gazing of the worst and most alienating kind.
Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund, Nicholas Shikkis, Jennifer Hayes, Nicholas Bodych of the Richard Alston Dance Company Photograph: Chris Nash