Theatre Royal, Glasgow
November 19, 2019
Searching duets, bodies that fold like intricate hinge joints, and an abundance of arabesques. Richard Alston’s Final Edition, spanning his time as a choreographer before and with his company, highlights Alston’s precise, clean style and is met by a receptive Glasgow audience, who seem almost on friendly terms with the choreographer.
It’s amazing to see a dance language that’s not ballet being so instantly recognised and appreciated by an audience. Alston’s choreography is evident and there to be read: laying out clearly its movement dynamics and shifting body shapes, it gives audiences the power and ability to read, notice and appreciate. At one point, an audience member in front of me utters ‘oh that’s gorgeous’ as one tableau is spun out on the stage: a spiral begins from the floor, and winds and flourishes its way up through Monique Jonas’ torso into a final pose, the glint in her satin dress flashing as the darkness overhead creeps in and hunkers down at the back of the stage.
Due to an unexpected injury, the programme danced is different to what’s advertised. This is explained by Alston himself, who steps out in front of the curtain to his audience. He introduces, too, the curtain raiser for the night: Pursuit, choreographed by James Muller (a previous dancer with the company) and performed by young dancers from Evolution Dance in Inverurie, who capture that niche Alston style with grace.
Red Run (1998) is the bold opener, a blood pumping, strong, travelling piece draped in luscious colours. After the interval, we see Isthmus (2012), a chiming, fleeting piece of repeated sequences that descends down to earth and flutters away.
It’s the older pieces that provide some of the most interesting food for thought. Solo and Duet from Nowhere Slowly (1970), were created and danced, Alston explains, by himself and fellow choreographer Siobhan Davies: ‘and what fun we had creating it.’ Its crispness and airiness is diffused across the stage, two dancers becoming one shape, arms wide and reverential. Blue Shubert Fragments (1974) is a lesson in choreography for the audience, inviting them in to see patterns they recognise repeated across dancers, in different configurations and facings.
There’s a pause before Mazur (2015), as pianist Jason Ridgway is set up in the space. It’s Alston’s most human duet, with dancers Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis as two gentlemen in the country, perhaps. Genteel, gracious, cordial, they gesture to each other and the pianist in a conversational tone.
The night ends with Voices and Light Footsteps, Alston’s most recent creation. It’s not personally my favourite of the night (that would be between Red Run and Mazur) but its festival atmosphere as it darts between choral singing and ensemble sequences gives the dancers a chance to say goodbye with panache. The duets stand out, the couples always seemingly on a journey together, questioning and supportive.
The company has a limited number of remaining shows before they are no more, a result of the company’s funding being stopped following a change in Arts Council England policy towards The Place (Alston’s London home), which will now focus exclusively on supporting young artists. Alston hopes to still choreograph independently, and it will be interesting to see how the dancers adapt in new contexts to the rigours of styles different to Alston’s.
There is both warmth and sadness in the theatre; Alston’s legacy is in no doubt, and his company has enjoyed a special privilege (not possible for many other choreographers) of being able to preserve and continually perform his repertoire. It may be the end of an era, but while there may be a gap, it will soon be filled by the next choreographers of our time. Hopefully, they too will have the chance to grow and hone their own style, whoever they may be.