Several turning points have recently converged in the life of Richard Alston. He has recently turned seventy, his company - now enjoying its 25th anniversary - is to close in early 2020 (because of strategic funding and administrative decisions) and, in the week prior to this show, he became only the eighth man in history to be knighted for services to dance (and just the second choreographer, in addition to Sir Matthew Bourne, outside The Royal Ballet).

Ely Braund and Nicholas Shikkis in Lawrance's <i>Detour</i> © Chris Nash
Ely Braund and Nicholas Shikkis in Lawrance's Detour
© Chris Nash

On this evidence (and that of recent years) Alston is at the height of producing an assured choreographic quality, which is elegant, educational, joyous and above all, sows movement into the music with the craft of a master tailor. He is indisputably amongst a minuscule, elite echelon of intensely musical choreographers and there is every reason to hope that there are many more years of making dance to come. So, what kind of foolishness would allow this mature creative flow to be interrupted, by forcing the closure of his company, at the height of his capability?

If reason dictated such decisions not only would the company be continuing but Martin Lawrance – having worked with Alston for the past 24 years – would be his ready-made successor. The opening work on this programme, Detour, is his fourteenth for RADC and one of the best. It is a fast-paced burst of fluid dance, performed by the whole company of nine dancers, using two contrasting pieces of rhythmic, percussive music (one melodious and the other non-tuned). The latter piece (Michael Gordon’s Timber, remixed by Icelandic composer, Jóhan Jóhannsson) has an incessant accumulating drive that Lawrance matches in building the pace and range of movement. In recent years, Lawrance has divided his time between London and the Philippines where he has made five works on Ballet Manila, the latest of which, The Winding Road (to music by The Beatles) premieres later this month. It seems that the UK’s self-enforced loss will be Manila’s gain.

The rest of the programme was pure Alston. Beginning with a retrospective in Quartermark, representing RADC’s quarter-century, which combined a gorgeous solo (danced by Monique Jonas) to Monteverdi’s Si dolce è’l tormento, extracted from Fever (2001); another solo from Shimmer (2004), originally created for Lawrance to dance, performed here by newcomer, Joshua Harriette, to music by Ravel (La Vallée des Cloches); a female duet to Bach (Forlane and Badinerie – “jesting” - from Orchestral Suites No 1 and 2), made in 2018; and a finale to music by Handel, extracted from The Signal of a Shake (2000). If the object of this compilation was to showcase Alston’s versatile musicality, it succeeded in spades.

Carmine de Amicis and Ellen Yilma in Alston's <i>Brahms Hungarian</i> © Chris Nash
Carmine de Amicis and Ellen Yilma in Alston's Brahms Hungarian
© Chris Nash
The last RADC celebratory compilation, Mid-Century Modern (2017) had included an extract from Proverb (2006) one of the choreographer’s favourite works (although my mind boggles at the enormous spectrum of choice). It was made to celebrate the seventieth birthday of its composer, Steve Reich, and Alston has now revived it to celebrate his own arrival at the same age. The minimalist mix of vocal melody and polyphonic music produces a score of medieval resonance, in which the time signatures vary almost continuously, presenting a complex choreographic challenge over fifteen minutes. In this ensemble work, Alston tames that beast, achieving a glorious mix of lightness and weight, opening the articulation of bodies in gorgeous line while also grounding them to the floor.

The programme concluded with his latest work, Brahms Hungarian, which carries an idealistic, romantic flavour of that country with speed, elegance, grandeur and Gypsy influences flavouring familiar melodies. It is a glorious work, full of richness and delicacy; enlivened by Fotini Dimou’s costumes (the women’s tight-bodiced, full-skirted, patterned dresses enhance the fluid quality).

There have been many notable departures from the company in recent years and five of these nine dancers are relative newcomers, bringing a fresh zest and hunger to the collective dynamic. However, much though one marveled at their capacity, the performance of the night belonged to pianist, Jason Ridgway, for his superb performance of the Brahms Hungarian, originally composed for two pianos and then arranged for just one pianist who does the work of two. Bravo!

Alston is on record as saying that he now treats every work as if it will be his last; a thought, no doubt, emphasised by the knowledge that his company has but a year to continue. In this programme, it is clear to see this strength of purpose and single-minded focus. It is a national disgrace that the company is to close but let us hope that there are many, many more “last” works to come.


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