It began with a photoshoot in 1995. Over the next 25 years photographer Chris Nash documented the work of Richard Alston and his dance company, creating a unique visual identity for the now no more ensemble.
Conceived by Nash, Alston Nash records and celebrates the pair’s association. The beautifully produced, 108-page book of 50 photographs chosen by the photographer, choreographer and Martin Lawrance (who moved from dancer to rehearsal director to associate choreographer with the company), will grace any dance lover’s bookshelf.
The images range from that first experimental photoshoot to iconic pictures that are bound to bring back memories. Each is accompanied by a conversation between Alston and Nash. Full of anecdotes and memories, they set out some of the creative thoughts behind the photographs, but also offer insights into the pair’s relationship and thinking about their art forms.
Many of the photographs exude freedom and playfulness. Look at any one of them and you can sense the movement. They have superb clarity too. Detail is everywhere.
With no set to get in the way, the photos invariably feature just the dancers and the space. At one point, Nash explains how he always thinks of the ‘negative space’, by which he means the space described by the absence of the figure; the space around and between the dancers who are the subject of the picture. It’s much the same with choreography. You cannot divorce movement from the space it is in; and where stillness, the equivalent of the space around the figures in photographs, is just as important as the photographs themselves.
And let’s not forget the light. Turning the pages, you can’t help but note how often Nash catches the light glinting off the dancers, their hair in particular, which adds greatly to the energy of the scenes.
Anyone familiar with Alston and his company will likely find their favourite work here. Certainly, they will find favourite photographs. In no particular order, mine include a super shot of Monique Jonas, Elly Braund, Melissa Braithwaite and Ellen Yilma in Brahms Hungarian (2018) that just emphasises the joy of movement.
Then there’s Angela Towler, Christopher Tudor and Jason Piper reaching up as they seemingly fly in Red Run (1998); an image that was also used for posters for the first International Festival of Contemporary Dance in Moscow. I love the swirl of light around Towler that emphasises the movement of her dress while the men are in near-silhouette.
For depth and a picture that seems to reach into the soul, there’s no beating the intensity of a close-up of Henri Oguike and Martin Lawrance in Rumours, Visions (1996) that almost has the quality of an Old Master.
If you want colour and sparky energy, it’s hard to beat the electric blue of Lawrance and Sonja Peedo in Shimmer (2004).
Finally, I just love the picture of Elly Braund and Nicholas Bodych in Overdrive (2003). It has beautiful depth, her a little upstage, bent forwards, him reaching up and back in front, framing her with his arm. But again, it’s the way Nash works with the light that makes such a difference.
Alston’s company has gone, but as Judith Mackrell quite rightly observes in her introduction, this may be a book of memories but it is not a book of mourning. Rather, it’s a celebration; a super record of Alston, his company, his work and his passion for dance. It’s not the end either, as he plans to be out there, making new work, continuing to thrill and enthral audiences.
Paperback: 108 pages
Publisher: Fiat Lux
Publication date: October 20, 2020
Dimensions: 225 x 280 x 10 mm
Cover price: £30.00
Available from www.chrisnashphoto.com (from where it can now be ordered), and shortly from Amazon.