This evening’s programme was diverse yet brilliantly unified in the spirit often generated by the Richard Alston Dance Company.

The Quays Theatre is a crimson, intimate venue with a luxurious feel, which was a welcome setting for the triple bill the company is currently touring with. Much like a wardrobe, the company has its favourite works, as well as new meaningful pieces that engage with past and present global discourse. Such is the beauty of a long-standing choreographer and his group.

An Italian in Madrid tells the story of classical composer Domenico Scarlatti - his transition from Italian society to the then contested territory of Portugal (Lisbon), to teach Princess Maria Barbara. Reflective of Portuguese-Spanish relations at the time, he finally settled at the seat of the Spanish Empire, in Madrid, due to Princess Maria Barbara’s betrothal to a Spanish Prince, Fernando of the Asturias, and her insistence that Scarlatti accompany her to continue her musical education. This was an education for Scarlatti as well, as is reflected in his musical writing from the time. His Sonatas take on fused nationalities.

Richard Alston’s delicate and refined language maps this narrative and the Spanish influence on the Sonatas (Scarlatti) and associates. It is a somewhat humbling portrayal of royalty, as the courting of the young royals is marked by musical, choreographed, and cultural motifs of nationality. However, the costume for this first dance of the evening is undoubtedly regal, though they cleverly incorporate the trousered mode brought and invited in by Alston’s Princess, Vidya Patel. Her Classical Indian dance mastership converses with the influence of Andalusia in Scarlatti’s composition, contrasting with the more rigid and balanced balletic elements in the Contemporary. As Scarlatti breaks musical ‘rules’, so too does Alston in his choreographed cultural fusion. These Eastern dance patterns championed by Patel bring new spheres of meaning to the piece.

In the duets between Patel, Ihsaan de Banya (Scarlatti), and Liam Riddick (Prince Fernando), one can pick out the quizzical dimensions to their unique relationships. With the Prince, Princess Maria Barbara is reserved, receiving him in Lisbon, and with Scarlatti she seems more comfortable and expressive. This is shown in Alston’s attention to accentuated, almost statuesque gestures. They are sweeping and uniform, as well as canonical in Scarlatti and the Princess’ duets, as if she is mirroring his teaching closely. The formal courting is equally magnified in the element of ‘call and response’ between the Prince and Princess.

Next, Martin Lawrence’s choreography was markedly smooth and sumptuous, reflecting the Tango dance running through Tangent. The ‘peaks’ of the choreography here moved with the ebbing and fluidity, but brusque nature of Piazzolla’s Tango. The more raucous, the tenser passionate dancing, contrasting with a tender final embrace. Lawrence developed the illuminating medium of the programme in Tangent, as it restored collective intimacy, yet aligned it with Spanish roots. We were shown another side to the dancers, in a seamless fusion of dance, using dancers' individual strengths within the choreography.

Chacony, Alston’s most recent work, seems the culmination of the deconstruction of patterns and motivic structure(s) in this programme. We move through the groupings, from solo, duets, to pure collective. There is pulsating dance and lyricism written into Henry Purcell’s jazzy music. You could be forgiven for confusing the Purcell and Benjamin Britten’s work, such is the bridge between Baroque and Contemporary. The beauty of the Purcell is channelled by Britten (and subsequently Alston), in his memorialistic Chacony from 2nd String Quartet Op. 36 (1945), both to Purcell and in response to the liberation process of the prison camps, at the end of the Second World War.

Alston’s strength lies in showing Britten’s call for unity and hope in this piece. Coming back to the company as a whole, the piece clearly demonstrates the family system imbedded within the group. The dancers moved with such empathy for each other and the musical narratives, which was outstandingly powerful. A particularly delightful moment came in a tutti formation, the group moving into a triangle pointing at the audience. The dancer on his own at the front (at the point) uniquely extended his arm on the final beat of the grouping, as if they were all one body. This gesture harked back to those of An Italian in Madrid, but also told of Britten’s passivism and friendship.

The instrumentation and presentation of the music in An Italian in Madrid and Chacony was questionable, mainly because they did not feature live instruments, which would have brought an added dimension to the performance. Live would make sense, since so much emphasis is placed on the life of the composers and musical motifs and structures. These nit-picks aside, the Piazzolla (live piano) took us from ceremony to passion.

Richard Alston and company manage to inhabit that state of flux that is so exciting in Contemporary Dance. He wears his past affiliation with Rambert in an upright and bold engagement with classical ballet, but takes on new ideas to let the natural progressions and narratives of the world guide his hand. This shone through in each dancer.