Saturday’s one-off double bill saw new work from one of Britain’s best, Richard Alston, paired with American Stephen Petronio’s creation for the National Dance Company of Wales. The show comes as part of the biennial British Dance Edition, a showcase of the top talents in British dance. While most events are exclusive to promoters and producers certain key performances such as this one have been opened to the public.

National Dance Company Wales, By Singing Light by Stephen Petronio, © Roy Campbell-Moore
National Dance Company Wales, By Singing Light by Stephen Petronio,
© Roy Campbell-Moore

Up first is Alston’s Unfinished Business. As the opening notes sound of the Allegro from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F, K533, lone dancer Liam Riddick hops into action. He whirls about the stage with calm and control, respectfully matching the quality of his movement with that of the music. Eventually, the solo gives way to a quartet; each part is danced in distinct isolation yet it retains a sense of togetherness as the dancers flit in and out of unison. The structure repeats, the solo and quartet alternating as the piece gains momentum, until the section finishes as it began, with the dancer alone on a silent stage.

Then comes the Andante, darker and broodier. Alston sets it alongside a duet from two of his more experienced dancers who dance with the satisfying weightiness characteristic of the company. The performers are expressive and detailed, sharp percussive movements align emphatically with moments in Mozart’s music before receding gently.

The piece ends with a trio to Federico Busoni’s arrangement of a Gigue in D by Mozart. Here Alston is a little more playful. The calm repose of before is given a dash of boyish energy and enthusiasm by dancer Andres de Blust-Mommaerts. The piece ends decisively with the whole company joining in unison for a big finish.

Unfinished Business is the most recent creation in a choreographic career spanning more than four decades, and Alston’s experience certainly shines through, resulting in a work of great delicacy and sophistication. Throughout Alston demonstrates his mastery of musicality. His choreography is spacious, and stillness is often used, allowing time for us to actually hear the music: a pleasure that is surprisingly rare in contemporary dance.

National Dance Company of Wales, formerly Diversions, bring a little more attitude to the proceedings in Stephen Petronio’s By Singing Light, inspired, fittingly, by Wales.

By Singing Light begins slowly. Dressed only in long white shirts, a group of five dancers move quietly about the stage, supporting each other in ever more complex lifts. The group is replaced by another group who continue the functional movement as an atmospheric soundscape from Son Lux fills the space around them. Eventually a solo female dancer runs on stage, breaking the lethargy with pacier, more typically ‘Petronio’ movement. The rest of the company soon diverge from their tired trance and join the iconoclastic soloist in her tilts, curves and deep pliés. The stage becomes an exciting confusion of entrances and exits, too quick to follow as the ensemble is replaced by trios, duets and solos, each dancer performing personalised motif material. The dance becomes more dangerous, lunges become lower and juicier, the dancer’s straight spines begin to bend, and hips begin to carve curves into the surrounding space.

The costume reflects the progression of the movement. The uniformity of the billowing white shirts is abandoned in favour of a variety of skimpy leotards in varying colours and materials, each with a unique pattern of slits in its back. The music too expresses variety. The dark soundscape is followed first by piercing strings and a bassier electronic score, then by a choral reworking of the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

Whilst Petronio seems to bring the best out of the company, they too manage to bring the best out of him. By Singing Light is both performed and choreographed with equal skill, the dancers investing the flowing and complex choreography with bucketloads of energy and attitude. National Dance Company of Wales certainly earn their right to showcase with the best in this year’s British Dance Edition.