sat 30/05/2020

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Sadler's Wells review - farewell and thank you, Sir Richard | reviews, news & interviews

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Sadler's Wells review - farewell and thank you, Sir Richard

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Sadler's Wells review - farewell and thank you, Sir Richard

Amid tears and cheers, the company takes a final bow

Light fantastic: Jennifer Hayes, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler and Ellen Yilma in 'Voices and Light Footsteps'Photo: Chris Nash

Hard as it is to imagine the British dance landscape without Richard Alston, we’re going to have to get used to it.

Hard as it is to imagine the British dance landscape without Richard Alston, we’re going to have to get used to it. The touring company that for the past 25 years has been the chief purveyor of his uniquely lyrical brand of contemporary dance has disbanded, and not because the 71-year-old wanted to call it a day. Far from it. Having lost more than half his public funding, he decided against operating at half-strength. He wanted his company to go out on a high, and so it has.

It says much about the man and his creative energy that four of the six pieces in this farewell programme were London premieres. Of these, Shine On, set to Benjamin Britten’s song cycle On This Island, performed live on stage by the soprano Katherine McIndoe and pianist Jason Ridgway, seemed best to encapsulate the Alston USP, not least in its very English sensibility and refined ear for music and poetry.Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis in 'Voices and Light Footsteps'Typically its sequence of duets and group dances do not so much dramatise as reflect Britten’s settings of WH Auden’s poem, some of whose stanzas might have been written for this valedictory show. “Look, stranger, on this island now … Stand stable here, and silent be...” The dance, by turns grand and intimate, proud and sad, also makes a feature of this choregrapher’s special skill in making tenderly nuanced duets for men. A nocturnal number for Niall Egan and Joshua Harriette to the words “Now the ragged vagrants creep, into crooked holes to sleep” must count among the loveliest things Alston has crafted.

Mazur, from 2015, also taps into male affections but with a different kind of longing, the expat’s longing for home. A setting of seven Chopin mazurkas (elegantly played by Ridgway alongside the dancers with a superfine control of pianissimo), the sequence of solos and duets for Harriette (again) and Nicholas Shikkis inevitably evokes Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering in its theme of friendship and memory, only here the gathering is two.

Alston has never been afraid to show his admiration for classical dance, however unfashionable that has been

Again, a thread of regret runs through it, despite the frisky mazurka rhythms, and there are just enough little nods to folkdance to give a flavour of Poland without the piece tipping into pastiche. It’s heartening, too, to see the influence of Frederick Ashton in balletic feet and pliant waists. For all his Sixties credentials, Alston has never been afraid to show his admiration for classical dance, however unfashionable that has been.

Isthmus, from 2012, brought us the flipside of that human warmth: dance as graphic art, the dancers reduced to exploding dots and slashes of colour. Bari, the curtain raiser, was pure fun – a folk-infused number inspired by the pizzica dances of Southern Italy, traditionally a therapy for spider bites. A Far Cry was a reminder of Alston’s lifelong generosity to younger talents. He didn’t need to make space for a piece by his protégé Martin Lawrance, but it was typical that he did.

Voices and Light Footsteps, new this season (pictured above), closed the show with Monteverdi, alternating between plangency and joy, and between ingenious images of sleep and dances so vital they could raise the dead. If the dancers shed tears as they took their final bow, many in the audience did too. The idea that this extraordinary synthesis of trained bodies, devotion to a very particular aesthetic, and one man’s lifetime of listening and thinking and creating is now no more is hard to accept. Dance is ephemeral, as this farewell reminds us. Thank you, Sir Richard, for the memories.

It says much about the man and his creative energy that four of the six pieces in this farewell show were new

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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