Saying goodbye: Richard Alston’s Final Edition

Royal & Derngate, Northampton
October 1, 2019

David Mead

It was an evening of mixed emotions. One of fine dancing, of glorious music. One to celebrate all that is good in the wonderful art form that is dance. But it was also one tinged with sadness because the end is coming, the Arts Council and The Place in their wisdom having decided that Richard Alston Dance Company just doesn’t tick enough of their boxes and should be sacrificed in favour of younger artists.

Those feelings truly came to the fore in the evening’s final work, Voices and Light Footsteps, Alston’s final piece for his company. It takes its title from Henry James’ 1888 novella The Aspern Papers and a description of the Piazza San Marco in the evening.

It is indeed a dance of light footsteps. The end is bright but it’s far from the usual upbeat closing work one usually expects. I’m sure the occasion, that it may well be the last work I ever see the company perform, didn’t help, but a sense of poignancy pervades throughout.

Monique Jonas, Elly Braund, Melissa Braithwaite and Ellen Yilma in Brahms HungarianPhoto Chris Nash
Monique Jonas, Elly Braund, Melissa Braithwaite and Ellen Yilma in Brahms Hungarian
Photo Chris Nash

A work of ten short dances to Montiverdi sung madrigals and instrumental music, it is a beautiful piece to go out on, the music and dance woven together like the finest silk. The music and dance fit together like a hand-made glove. Canons in the music are reflected by canons in the choreography. The sense of detail and understanding of the score is a marvel to behold.

The programme opened with Brahms Hungarian, a joyful, playful, uplifting dance of delicacy performed in lovely costumes. Fotini Dimou’s flower print dresses for the women are a particular delight. The choreography is a meeting of balletic lightness and modernism with a hint of folk that rolls along beautifully before culminating in the well-known Hungarian Dance No.5. It’s also terribly well-mannered, the dancers acknowledging each other with a modest ‘thank you’ nod at the end of each section. It was sensitively accompanied, as always seems to have been the case, by the superb Jason Ridgway on piano.

The following Mazur is a male duet set to Chopin mazurkas. Another dance of politeness, Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis gave us the sense of two gentleman friends sharing their yearning for their homeland. Maybe it’s the costumes, but I thought it had a distinct Edwardian feel. Harriette’s portrayal in a dance of dreamy curves and achingly long lines was especially one of longing.

Elly Braund and Nicholas Shikkis in A Far CryPhoto Chris Nash
Elly Braund and Nicholas Shikkis in A Far Cry
Photo Chris Nash

Martin Lawrance’s A Far Cry brought a change of mood. The dance swirls and boils with Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Op.47. The women in particular seem to fly as they are swung around by their partners. Full of speed and spirit, the title is a reference to the mixed emotions of losing the company while celebrating it’s successes. Elly Braund and Nicholas Shikkis were outstanding as the lead couple. It ends with a sense of hope of a new dawn, the closing moments danced out against a rising sun.

And one can but hope. Alston said recently that he sees the situation he finds himself in as an “enforced new chapter.” A firm believer in what he does, and that there is a place for the older artist as well as the younger, he added that he has no intention of retiring. Many will hope so, including the hoardes of youngsters in what was one of the youngest dance audiences I’ve seen for a very long time.

Of course, young artists do need support. But will those that The Place will in future be promoting and touring will attract even as close to as big audiences? Or as young audiences? Let’s not forget that Alston’s company attracts youngsters in staggering numbers. And what of quality? But perhaps none of that counts any more.

There’s also the question of the survival of Alston’s work. Will it disappear as so much of Merce Cunningham’s already has? Just as worrying is that, in removing Richard Alston Dance Company from the dance landscape, the Arts Council have removed a beacon; a shining light for quality, a standard of choreography and dancing and musicality to which others can aspire. It is truly an act of cultural vandalism for which they should be ashamed.

But back to brighter things and the evening’s opening curtain raiser, Flocking by Two Thirds Sky, a group of aspiring young dancers aged 14 to 18 from the region, choreographed by the company artistic director Lisa Spackman with Laura Gibson and former Richard Alston company dancer. Inspired by the flight patterns of murmurating starlings, it was an interesting work of changing patterns, lots of energy and plenty of talent.

It was the latest opportunity afforded by Alston and his company to the young people of Northamptonshire over a number of years. One hopes that support can continue, the choreographer, who has family connections with Earl’s Barton, between Northampton and Wellingborough, having recently agreed to becoming a patron of Northampton’s Royal & Derngate.

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