After 26 years, this was the final weekend of the Richard Alston Dance Company. This Final Edition epitomised a well-oiled machine, running every element of an Alston mixed bill that audiences have come to love, including the fascination of similarities and contrasts in the works of Alston and Martin Lawrance (his other choreographer-in-residence), the pure lines of the bodies in their movement and – never to be forgotten – the virtuoso pianism of Jason Ridgway that sustained Alston’s choreography in his final work for the company, prophetically entitled Shine On, as it has done for so much before.

Pierre Tapon, Nancy Nerantzi and Anelli Binder in <i>Isthmus</i> © Tony Nandi
Pierre Tapon, Nancy Nerantzi and Anelli Binder in Isthmus
© Tony Nandi

The first act focused on three small works by Alston, beginning with Bari, a tantalising hors d’ouevre performed by students from London Contemporary Dance School – co-located with RADC at The Place – to the pizzica music of the Apulia region of southern Italy, which traditionally accompanies a variation on the tarantella (a couple dance associated with the hysterical condition of tarantism, following the bite of the highly-venomous wolf spider). Here, five couples performed this explosive mix of fast steps, intricate patterns and rapid changes of direction in a staging that has the ecstatic feel of a bacchanalian rite, reminding me in so many ways of that Alston classic, Gypsy Mixture (2004).        

Music is always the critical starting point for any Alston choreography and it was Jo Kondo’s Isthmus – a feather-light composition for chamber ensemble of oboe, bassoon, piano, percussion and guitar – that influenced Alston’s eponymous choreography, created in 2012. Those eight years’ have gone by in a flash and this, the oldest work in the programme, also seemed the most modern, fresh out of the choreographer’s imagination as an antidote to the rampant “snake bites” of today. Here was crystalline, incisive movement of such musicality that Kondo’s notes were dancing on the stage in these six human forms.

Joshua Harriette and Elly Braund in <i>Shine On</i> © Chris Nash
Joshua Harriette and Elly Braund in Shine On
© Chris Nash

After a brief pause, Joshua Harriette returned to partner Nicholas Shikkis in a tender duet – Mazur – created in 2015 to a selection of Chopin’s Mazurkas – played with great sensitivity and expressiveness by Ridgway. This stirring of pianism and dance assembled a mutual and memorable lightness of being with swift changes of direction and vivid clarity of stimulating movement. The middle section brought Alston and Lawrance together, opening with Shine On, made by Alston in the knowledge that his company was to close, utilising an early song cycle by Benjamin Britten (On This Island), a composer to whom Alston has turned many times previously. This is fiendishly difficult music for the purposes of creating dance, pared down in conventual simplicity – that ideal brought to bear in the purity of Katherine McIndoe’s soprano voice (supported by Ridgway again at the piano). The six movements have provided inspiration for three ensemble sections of kaleidoscopic patterning, punctuated by eloquent duets, beginning with a fast-moving emotional all-woman partnership for Ellen Yilma and Jennifer Hayes (the longest-serving of this last cohort of dancers) and including a touching all-male duet for Harriette and Niall Egan.

Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis in <i>A Far Cry</i> © Chris Nash
Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis in A Far Cry
© Chris Nash

In another life, one might have foreseen that Lawrance would eventually inherit the company but that was not to be (he is already now well established as a resident choreographer with Ballet Manila in the Philippines). His last work for RADC, A Far Cry, is another piece touched by the creator’s knowledge of this finality.  It has everything one has come to associate with Lawrance’s choreography: an ensemble piece – every company member is engaged – made with lightning speed and accelerating intensity. Choreographed to Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, which was composed to show off the virtuosity of a string orchestra, Lawrance has successfully turned that same spotlight to illuminate the technical excellence of these superb dancers.

Elly Braund and Nicholas Shikkis in <i>Voices and Light Footsteps</i> © Chris Nash
Elly Braund and Nicholas Shikkis in Voices and Light Footsteps
© Chris Nash

And so, the final full stop, with Voices and Light Footsteps (Henry James’ description of Venice in the evening) and Alston’s fourth collaboration with the music of Monteverdi. Across ten sections that engaged the whole company, Alston has again fixated on the many intricacies of the lightness of being in a mixture of almost every permutation through his ensemble (including an arresting solo by Monique Jonas who is prevalent throughout the piece). Many such stars have emerged from Alston’s choreography (Henri Oguike, Jonathan Goddard, Liam Riddick and Nancy Neranzi spring immediately to mind) but the company has always appeared as a strong, unified and immutable voice and it came to a close with this essence still very much to the fore.      

The worst of its ending is not really about Alston or his company but the message it sends to every choreographer struggling to keep going in this saturated and threadbare marketplace. If the UK’s best-known, small-scale, internationally-acclaimed contemporary dance company with a knighted choreographer at the helm, still producing excellent work, cannot afford to continue, what hope is there for the rest?                

****1