Clean precision from Richard Alston Dance Company

Sadler’s Wells, London
March 29, 2016
Charlotte Kasner

This latest programme from Richard Alston Dance Company showcases a fine company of dancers. Alston is rooted in the classical ballet tradition (he has a particular fondness for pas de chats and temps levé en arabesque), but although his company all have clean precision, are light of foot and neat of execution, the dance does sometimes seem rather bland and lacking passion.

Alston’s Brisk Singing dates from 1997. It’s a pleasant work with fetching costumes by Jeanne Spaziani and music from Rameau’s 1764 opera Les Boréades. The Boréades were inhabitants of an imaginary kingdom in the north wind that devoted their thousand year lifespans to song, dancing and pleasure. Baroque music and contemporary dance are often paired successfully, the curlicues of the former being offset by the pared down style of the latter, and this is no exception.

Richard Alston Dance Company in Stronghold by Martin Lawrance (Dancers: Nicholas Bodych, Ihsaan de Banya and Elly Braund)Photo Chris Nash
Richard Alston Dance Company in Stronghold by Martin Lawrance
(Dancers: Nicholas Bodych, Ihsaan de Banya and Elly Braund)
Photo Chris Nash

Mazur, a duet for two men set to Chopin, was brilliantly accompanied by pianist Jason Ridgway. He has a lightness and fluidity of touch that is undercut by weightier left hand bass notes and played a piano that had been tuned to perfection. The dance frequently cuts across the musical beat as the men shift their balance and the relationship between them ebbs and flows. It is a long way from the Romantic tutus of Les Sylphides but it is also set in the context of the vigorous masculinity of companies such as DV8. The music pieces chosen were rather delicate for male dancers and, on the whole, it lacked drama and was rather long.

After the sublime Chopin, Martin Lawrance’s Stronghold was a shock to the system with its blastingly loud recorded score by Julia Wolfe and dim lighting plot by Karl Oskar Sørdal. It seems to be set in a dystopia that actually suggests nothing of the protection of a fortress or stronghold. Neither the choreography nor the execution lived up to the pounding, sawing music. If only the dancers could let themsleves go a little more rather than cling to an academic perfection. Turns, partnering and swift changes of direction are all amazingly accurate, but an  injection of danger would spice things up a little.

An Italian in Madrid(Dancers: Vidya Patel as Princess Maria Barbara and Liam Riddick as Prince Fernando of the Asturias)Photo Jane Hobson
An Italian in Madrid
(Dancers: Vidya Patel as Princess Maria Barbara and Liam Riddick as Prince Fernando of the Asturias)
Photo Jane Hobson

It was a relief to the ears to return to Ridgeway and Scarlatti sonatas for the world premiere of An Italian in Madrid. It bears similarities Brisk Singing with costumes in the same colour palette, if rather more flowing, for the women. It loosely tells the story of how Scarlatti travelled from Italy to teach Princess Maria Barbera in Lisbon, later moving to Spain when she married into the Spanish royal family. But while there is a narrative of sorts, it’s not entirely apparent throughout.

An Italian in Madrid combines ensemble sections with a dreamy duet danced by Ihsaan De Banya and Jennifer Hayes. De Banya is an extraordinary dancer who stands out in the best of ways. He has a glorious line and is a very accomplished, attentive partner. It would be wonderful to see him in danseur noble roles. The by now familiar pas de chats were amusingly executed en Italienne and the lightness of the work made for an enjoyable conclusion to the evening.

The evening did not leave a profound or lasting impression, but one could not fail to enjoy the skill of the dancers and the marriage of music and dance, even if things did err on the safe side.

Richard Alston Dance Company is touring to May 10. For dates and venues, visit