The latest bill from the Richard Alston Dance Company shows its leader as a consummate teacher: studied, scholarly, thoughtful and choreographing with a depth of considered skill to produce work that is always enjoyable and often uplifting, but which can lack emotional force. His teaching skills are powerfully evident in the extraordinary quality of the company he has built, the excellent collaboration with Kathak dancer Vidya Patel and in the power of a new piece by his associate choreographer and protégé, Martin Lawrance.

<i>Brisk Singing</i>: N Nerantzi, J Hayes, E Braund, Ihsaan de Banya, O Vesga Bujan, J Muller © Chris Nash
Brisk Singing: N Nerantzi, J Hayes, E Braund, Ihsaan de Banya, O Vesga Bujan, J Muller
© Chris Nash

Brisk Singing, from 1997, is Alston’s “joyful response” to the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau. To a Baroque score woven cleverly from sections of the opera Les Boréades, the company mixes fast, light gestures and motifs with strong shape-making. The dance and music are intricately linked with movement often illuminating what is heard.

Mazur is Alston’s exploration of Chopin’s mazurkas. Two male dancers work in a series of duets and solos, held together by gentle acknowledgements of the audience and of the pianist (Jason Ridgway) who is on stage with them. Their movement is light, flowing, complex and wonderfully well performed by Nicholas Bodych and Liam Riddick. Ridgway’s interpretation of the music was superb, especially the nuanced way in which he collaborated with the dancers, rather than simply accompanying them. He created a wealth of moods and emotions. My enjoyment of this piece was a little more intellectual than emotional. I loved the way Chopin’s pieces were opened up for me, and appreciated the evolving movement, but did not engage with the dancers’ characters or feelings, despite committed and technically excellent performances.

<i>Mazur</i>: Liam Riddick and Nicholas Bodych © Chris Nash
Mazur: Liam Riddick and Nicholas Bodych
© Chris Nash

On the other hand, I was gripped from the first moment of Martin Lawrance’s Stronghold. All the dancers strode forward from the back wall of a bare stage, taking strong shape in intense, sculptural lighting as Julia Wolfe’s astonishing score (for eight double basses) wove complex harmonies and built visceral tension. The dancers seemed to move up several gears, with breathtaking power and precise control (particularly in the first part of the piece). The dance language was obviously drawn from the same sources as the first two pieces, but now was powerfully emotional. No longer was I observing interesting and clever scenes, but was gripped by powerful communication. I found myself edging forward in my seat, caring, almost anxious, about the people on the stage and wanting to see what would happen next. The company showed its skills to the full here, with Ihsaan de Banya, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Liam Riddick, Elly Braund and Nancy Nerantzi all exceptionally strong.

I was very keen to see the world première of An Italian in Madrid, Alston’s narrative about Domenico Scarlatti’s stay in Andalusia with his pupil, the young princess Maria Barbara, who had married their prince. Scarlatti’s music was transformed by encountering what later became flamenco, resulting in a huge output of sonatas which form the score for this work. Echoing this “meeting of two cultures”, the princess was played by Vidya Patel a talented Kathak dancer, who won her category in the BBC’s Young Dancer of the Year. The characteristic rotations, step and arm movements of Kathak are used directly but also combined with classic contemporary dance.

<i>An Italian in Madrid</i>: Vidya Patel and Liam Riddick © Jane Hobson
An Italian in Madrid: Vidya Patel and Liam Riddick
© Jane Hobson

Patel had a powerful stage presence. Her long limbs, so gracefully used, and her controlled technique (in contemporary as well as in Kathak movement) made it difficult to take your eyes away from her. Ridgway, on stage for the second scene, used the piano to create memorable interpretations of Scarlatti, expressed with delicate skill by the company. Riddick, as the Prince, was a clean and effective partner, especially in a delightful pas de deux bridging the two styles. Ihsaan de Banya brought a sense of enjoyment to his portrayal of Scarlatti. Despite all this, the narrative was weak, with place, time and story confused. Without programme notes it would have made little sense. The first scene felt disconnected and too abstract, only coming alive in the second scene when Patel appeared (in a breathtaking series of Kathak turns right across the diagonal of the stage).

This evening showed a genuinely excellent company in top form, very well led and taught by its founder who combines a deeply felt and complex musicality and an ability to study and use movement ideas and cultures This was wonderfully exemplified by the collaboration between Ridgway and Patel. The power of this company was best shown in the piece by Martin Lawrance, which used Alston’s choreographic heritage to create a vivid experience. The tour continues.

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