The Place, London
November 28, 2019
For some of the last performances of Richard Alston’s company, barring an unlikely last-minute reprieve, he introduced selections ranging from 1970 to the world premiere of a new piece for London Contemporary Dance School students.
It was a quiet roar in the language of choreography, Alston and his company proving that they have plenty more mileage left. No point in roaring loudly, Alston knows, for Arts Council England are deaf when it comes to their erroneous obsession with youth. Long gone are the days when funding was available for art that was simply deemed likely to be good.
The solo and duet presented from Nowhere Slowly is the earliest extant piece from Alston’s work at The Place where he arrived as a scholarship student in 1969. Alston and Sue Davies danced the duet in 1970, performed here by Monique Jonas and Nahum McLean, with the solo by Jennifer Hayes. Nearly half a century of continuity and knowledge passed on from the horse’s mouth to these lucky young dancers. Although reasonably simple in its execution, the piece is not in any way dated.
Blue Schubert Fragments from two years later had luckily been captured on film and represented the first use that Alston made of romantic music, in this instance the adagio from Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. Alston’s choreographic vocabulary had already developed, the dance enfolding in such a manner as to demonstrate the way it was created, with layer upon layer of movement until all moved in synchronicity. The strength of technique and fluidity of movement was already much in evidence.
Bari is a world premiere set to a modern reworking of southern Italian pizzica music that, like the tarantella is said to be connected to the reaction of people bitten by ‘tarantulas’. (The spider concerned is actually Lycosa tarantula that takes its name from the Taranto region of Italy, not a ‘tarantula’ in the current, common usage of the term, but a wolf spider).
The ten student dancers gave an energetic account of themselves in a work that weaves complex moves and challenging technique into a lively whole. Like a section of a Bruegel painting, there always seems to be something going on: a challenging balance here, rapid footwork there. This work deserves a longer life whatever the fate of the company.
Isthmus dates from 2012 and was created to celebrate Bob Lockyer’s 70th birthday. It is clear that neither septuagenarian has let time stand still, nor their dancers who flit hither and thither with intricate footwork and tricky balances. Torsos twist away from hips and even in moments of stillness, dancers look as if they are frozen in action like a painting of a speeding skater.
Detour, made last year, brought the first half to a close, partly accompanied by a fiendish score for solo marimba and a remixed percussion piece, as seven dancers meld and part in duets and trios, which, as in Bari, form chains of continuous action. The stage may be comparatively small, but the dancers have a breadth of movement that is often lacking and cover the stage with control and mastery.
Red Run from 1998 uses modern jazz rhythms to accompany dance that is almost aggressive in its energy. Dancers punch the air with their feet as they jump and fists are clenched. Lighting is used very effectively, towards the end looking as if scribbles have been scrawled across the stage with a light pen that throws the dancers into sinister light and shade and play tricks with the perception of the body.
The evening ended with Cunningham Centennial Solos created last year for a performance at the Barbican. Sue Davies and Hannah Kidd, the later hot footing it from teaching to cover for an injured Elly Braund, proved that we do not see enough of older dancers on stage. What a fitting work for the finale which, although a tribute to Cunningham, also surely made reference to Alston’s life-long adherence to tai-chi.
This gentle gentleman has vowed to carry on in any way that he can. Judging by the large number of excited young people in the audience – the most diverse in age I have seen for any dance in a long time – this is exactly what is attracting ‘youth’ to the theatre so he will have no lack of audience.