Music in motion: Alston – The Final Tour

Richard Alston Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells, London
March 1, 2019

Charlotte Kasner

Richard Alston has honed his craft over half a century, with his older works and the latest in this programme looking as fresh as each other.

Martin Lawrance’s Detour is set to a fabulous marimba solo by Akira Miyoshi and an untuned percussion piece by Michael Gordon that by turns evokes Stravinsky and Ravel, then Jon Pertwee-era Dr Who, with its creeping and bending of notes and wacky harmonics. Lawrance sets a fast pace for his dancers but is never relentless; just as the work seems to be settling into a pattern, it changes direction, literally and figuratively. The cast rose superbly to the challenge, dancing with great fluidity; and they are no slouches when it comes to establishing relationships, in spite of the abstract nature of the piece.

Nicholas Shikkis and Elly Braund in Detour by Martin Lawrance Photo Chris Nas
Nicholas Shikkis and Elly Braund
in Detour by Martin Lawrance
Photo Chris Nash

Quartermark showcases snippets from Alston’s works from 2001 to 2008. The music of Monteverdi fits well a solo from Fever, Monique Jonas exhibiting lovely breadth of gesture and line. An excerpt from Shimmer is less successful, Joshua Hariette not being helped by a peculiar and unflattering costume.

A duet from Bach Dances, the most recent work, may include lots of fiendish footwork, but Jennifer Hayes and Ellen Yilma were not phased one jot. Alston has this wonderful ability to transfer the colour of the notes to bodies, pulling surprises out of the steps like rabbits from a hat. The music and dancers canon, then part, but still always in constant conversation.

The Signal of a Shake pairs Handel with dance that includes a delightful motif of hands shaking that echoes baroque ornaments. The speed, accuracy and co-ordination of the company was showcased at its best, with never a dull moment.

Proverb sees the company unite against the soundscape of a marvellous Steve Reich work of the same name in a piece that echoes Monteverdi while demonstrating his trademark minimalism that strips it of all pretension. A single phrase of Wittgenstein reverberates around the head in multiple combinations as the dancers stretch and leap in antagonism and amicability. Alston and his dancers never shy away from danger but, via mutual trust, pull off a performance brimming with technique and confidence. The bi-coloured costumes are cleverly lit, giving the appearance of a complex chess match.

The pitch rose even further with the last work of the evening Brahms Hungarian, the only work danced to live music, ably supplied by Jason Ridgeway at the piano. The women were by turns soft and pliant then fiery. Partnering from the men was seamless and at times daring. The women’s costumes are were lovely; pretty dresses with a diaphanous floral top layer. The men’s, odd looking trousers with truncated waistcoats, some with garish green backs is a mystery, are rather less flattering.

It is no secret that Richard Alston Dance Company will cease to exist next year, although Alston himself insists he will seek opportunities elsewhere and continue to make dance. It seems that the constant drive by the powers that be for novelty will sacrifice a company that is not only stunning technically and artistically, but that keeps alive the ballet roots that make all of the pieces so interesting to watch.

Killing this company smacks of sawing off the branch on which the woodcutter is sitting. It is a brave decision to go out with a bang, although one still hopes for a last minute reprieve before so much is lost forever.

Richard Alston Dance Company continues on tour. Visit for dates and venues.