Dance to the mu­sic of moder­nity

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - DANCE REVIEWS - Re­viewed by Mark Brown

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

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