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Richard Alston Dance Company
Richard Alston Dance Company in “An Italian in Madrid.” Photograph by Jane Hobson

An Italian in Madrid

Richard Alston Dance Company's “An Italian in Madrid”

Performance
Richard Alston Dance Company: “An Italian in Madrid”
Place
Sadler's Wells, London, UK, March 29 & 30, 2016
Words
Rachel Elderkin

Upstage, the company stands in line. As the music builds, the whirring tones of Julia Wolfe’s score for eight double basses, a group breaks rank and runs forward, flying through space with strong, powerful movement. “Stronghold,” the new work by former company dancer and now associate choreographer of Richard Alston Dance Company, Martin Lawrence, is one of four pieces in the company’s latest programme. Performed at Sadler’s Wells, London, it’s a piece which, like the rest of the bill, shows this long-standing company is far from ready to rest on its laurels.

The movement comes in rapid bursts. Solos and duets break off from the group and, in the midst of this, the line reforms, the dancers stood watching, waiting. “Stronghold” is unpredictable, it seems to undulate with the subtle wave-like motion of Wolfe’s score—a score that often feels like a soundscape, so closely do the deep notes of its double basses blend. Midway a solo for dancer Ihsaan de Banya breaks the defined movement patterns we have come to associate with the dancers of this company, his body rippling as he spirals in and out of the floor. It’s a fast, exciting, punchy work—a piece that shows RADC as a force to be reckoned with.

The programme takes its title from the world premiere of Alston’s latest work, “An Italian in Madrid.” The Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, an Italian who found himself in Spain at the insistence of his pupil, Princess Maria Barbara, bride to a Spanish prince, are the inspiration behind this work. The light, skipping steps of Alston’s choreography echo the trilling, rhythmical patterns of Scarlatti’s Sonatas, masterfully captured by pianist Jason Ridgway who performs live onstage. The work has an innocent, cheerful feel, with a sense of youthful courtship in its partner work. Vidya Patel, finalist of 2015’s BBC Young Dancer joins the company for this piece and the relationship between her Kathak training and Alston’s expertise in classical ballet lies at the heart of “An Italian in Madrid.”

When the gauze curtain rises on Patel and Ridgway (the Princess and Scarlatti) the soft, gestural movements of her Kathak dance at first lie in contrast to the vibrant movement of the company. Yet, as Patel dances with her prospective prince (Liam Riddick) their elegant, poised movement melts together and, soon, hints of Kathak are threaded into the phrases the company dance.

Patel is a vivid, engaging performer. Her slow movements are filled with grace and clarity, yet, in an instant, she will spin as if unravelled then, just as suddenly, soften into stillness. The exchange between Patel and Riddick becomes an expressive sharing of skills and it’s this that shines through the storm of movement that is “An Italian in Madrid;” a charming, sensitive work in which Alston joyfully brings together two styles, and two cultures, without losing the essence of either.

These two new works are accompanied by Alston’s 1997 work for the company, “Brisk Singing,” and the delightful “Mazur,” a relatively new addition to the repertoire.

“Brisk Singing” is classic Alston, and it’s hard not to enjoy this light, spirited work. It opens the evening’s programme with its lively burst of movement; nimble steps, fleeting lines and agile jumps that seem to suspend in the air. The unison of the opening diverts into a series of duets, with rapid sections of movement which suddenly pause then explode into life once more. It’s a work that holds an almost mesmeric quality and it ends on a moment of calm, with a duet that seems to dissolve into the sorrowful strains of its closing music.

“Mazur,” a duet created by Alston in 2015, is a dance between two friends reminiscing over a beloved but lost homeland, here Poland. Chopin wrote his mazurkas in memory of the country from which he was exiled and it is to these that Alston’s “Mazur”  is choreographed. Alternating between duet and solo work, the piece echoes the style of a traditional ballet with its virtuoso structure and the influences of classical technique in its movement. There’s a subtle sense of masculine competitiveness between Nicholas Bodych and Liam Riddick as each take their turn to dance but this quiet showmanship simply lends to the old-fashioned charm of this piece.

“Mazur” has a melancholy beauty, the touches of the mazurka that Alston has expertly woven into the choreography adding a subtle hint of longing for moments past. Ridgway captures this beautifully with his accompanying interpretation of Chopin’s mazurkas. There’s a relaxed but respectful interaction between Ridgway and the dancers and at times this work feels more like a trio than a duet, so close is the connection between movement and music. It’s a relationship that enhances this sense of old friends sharing in the past, yet “Mazur” is not a sombre piece; the work rejoices in these memories, bringing them life and energy.

This latest selection of work from RADC shows a company at their athletic and technical best and, with a programme like this, it’s clear that this company are intent on producing inventive, exhilarating work.

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