It was recently announced that the Richard Alston Dance Company, resident at The Place since 1994, will close in 2020. Alston expands on the decision to David Mead.
It’s all to do with the Arts Council, its system for funding its clients, and that National Portfolio Organisations (leaders in their particular field with a collective responsibility to protect and develop the national arts and cultural ecology, and who receive regular funding for four years) have to reapply every four years, Alston explains. “When you reapply, you have to present a business plan and make changes to what you are doing. I felt that there was a lot of pressure on The Place, our home, to make some kind of change with the company and instead to give money to younger choreographers, who would then be touring.”
He continues, “The honest truth is that, if I pushed to keep the company, I might harm The Place, and I didn’t want to do that. It’s not something I am particularly happy about, but I felt that, under the circumstances, I had to agree to close the company. They gave us two years out of this funding period so we could reach our 25th anniversary, and I’m grateful for that.”
While it may have been possible for the company to apply to be a NPO in its own right, Alston says, “I dare say we could apply in a couple of years’ time when there’s a new application round, but the signals from the Arts Council were that they are keener on younger artists. They feel there is a gap and that younger artists are not being supported. They see The Place as a place to encourage and nurture young people.” As he adds, if they can do that, it’s hard to argue against it.
Steps are already being taken to protect the repertory. “At the moment, we are trying to set up an archive. Most of the work is already filmed. We’ve had wonderful private support for that for almost ten years now. That’s been a real blessing. I also have to think about which other companies might be interested in performing the work. I have given one or two pieces to mostly ballet companies because, of course, they are usually rep companies. There aren’t so may contemporary rep companies.”
The dancers are obviously disappointed at the news, says Alston, “But we’re really concentrating at the moment on keeping our spirits high. I have to say that, at the moment, this is a wonderful, wonderful bunch. They’re doing a great job and are dancing superbly. We have three or four new dancers and they’ve added a new energy; and with the other dancers who’ve danced for me for a long time, it’s turned out to be a very good mix.”
Good news for lovers of his work is that Alston aims to continue to make dance. “I will absolutely choreograph whenever anyone asks me,” he says. “I believe very strongly, when I look at artists like Merce Cunningham, like the wonderful Trisha Brown, that mature artists are hugely valuable. It’s too easy to think that dance is for the young and therefore should be created by the young. I am convinced that the work I am doing at the moment is as good as anything I have done. I really want to keep on exploring the path that I’ve developed with this company.”
Looking back, he says, “I’ve been supported for a long time. I can’t complain about that. The company has been supported for 25 years. Before that, I was at Rambert and I was supported there. My very first grant from the Arts Council came in 1972.” But he recognises that times are hard. “The Arts Council doesn’t have the money it once had, so can’t have the generosity it once did.”
He will miss touring, though. “The tricky thing for me is that I really rather love going around. I’ve been showing my work to people up and down the country since 1972. That’s a long, long, time. I don’t quite know how I’m going to feel when that’s not set up. I care very much about my audiences, and I don’t want them to think I’ve just turned round and had enough. I haven’t. I really appreciate their long-term support. I’m fond of them. I don’t want to let them down, I really don’t, and if I can find a way of continuing, I will do so.”
Richard Alston Dance Company is presently touring at home and abroad. Visit www.richardalstondance.com for dates and venues.