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Swell of Legacy

Watching Richard Alston Dance Company perform is like visiting a Rothko exhibition. It’s tidy, bright and expressive, confident in what it is and isn’t. And it’s vividly abstract; you can drink in its colour and energy without the heft of narrative interpretation. With an Alston production you have the bonus of musicality, which the dancemaker excels at. On the other hand, ephemerality is part and parcel of the experience. The fleeting nature of dance takes on an outsized presence in this particular programme, the company’s farewell show after 25 years at the forefront of the UK’s contemporary scene.

Performance

Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition

Place

Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, March 7, 2020

Words

Sara Veale

Jennifer Hayes, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler, Ellen Yilma in “Voices and Light Footsteps.” Photograph by Chris Nash

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In keeping with Alston’s spruce spirit, there’s nothing hyperbolic about the evening, no tears or fireworks; it’s not a gala-style retrospective but a recital of rep highlights old and new, including a handful of works created just last year. The company isn’t closing due to a lack of momentum, after all, but a lack of funding.

Still, the swell of legacy peeps through—the lovely lightness that has long distinguished Alston’s choreography, the affable accord between music and dance. It’s especially present in “Shine On,” which he created in 2019 with the understanding that it would be one of his troupe’s last routines. To stage right is company pianist Jason Ridgway, accompanied by Katherine McIndoe singing one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest song cycles. The ensemble springs and darts in cascades timed to the swerves of her voice. Nahum McLean is genteel, intimate, while Joshua Harriette shows something spinier as he clutches Elly Braund in the dusky light. Elsewhere are jazzy shoulders and jaunty heel-toes—little dashes of flair that lift the sensibility. The piece ends on a conversational note, the cast crossing their arms and giving us a nod as the curtain closes.

Ridgway’s piano playing also steers “Mazur,” a wistful 2015 duet set to Chopin mazurkas. The choreography mixes balletic spins and dapper cabrioles with warm notes of friendship: handshakes, glances, occasional interaction with the musician. I remember how bracing it was to see Jonathan Goddard and Liam Riddick perform this piece at its premiere in 2015; here there’s a lusher energy, especially in the solos. Nicholas Shikkis is all zippy leaps and suave lines, while Harriette is more velvety in his poses. Each looks right at home with the choreography and his partner.

Elly Braund and Nicholas Shikkis in “A Far Cry.” Photograph by Chris Nash

The drama of “A Far Cry” nods to the footprint of Martin Laurence, a long-time Alston collaborator and the force behind some excellent work for the company over the years. This 2019 number brings drama with speedy strings and twirling lifts, the men snatching the women as they sprint past and draping them across their shoulders. There are whip-fast spins, stag leaps, pas de chats, all delivered with crisp fluency.

A few short pieces pad out the programme, including a ‘curtain-raiser’ by London Contemporary Dance School graduates. The South Italian soundtrack is sunny, but the flexed feet and outstretched arms never really gel. “Isthmus,” from 2012, is more consistent—a brisk, fleet routine that plays the melodies of Jo Kondo’s tinkling composition. Again, Harriette shines, especially in his petit battement.

Anneli Binder, Nancy Nerantzi and Pierre Tappon in “Isthmus.” Photograph by Tony Nandi

Things wind down with “Voices and Light Footsteps,” a Monteverdi-scored work that moves between downy solos and summer-bright ensemble phrases. The women are glorious in satin, gliding in for serene, sensual tangles with the men of the cast. Monique Jonas is especially elegant, Ellen Yilma too. Slanting lifts, tender dips, easy extensions and counterbalances—it’s all eminently legible. How sad to know that this is the end of the road for this company, but how exciting to think of the heritage its dancers have to take forward.

Sara Veale


Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor. She's written about dance for the Observer, the Spectator, DanceTabs, Auditorium Magazine, Exeunt and more. Her first book, Untamed: The Radical Women of Modern Dance, will be published in 2024.

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