Richard Alston Dance Company @ The Place, London

directed by
Richard Alston
It is always a delight to see Richard Alston’s lyrical and visually pleasing work.

In this diverse and varied programme, the 10 strong company are on home ground at The Place, where Alston is also Artistic Director.

The programme involves two world premieres and two works which have been substantially reworked to produce extended versions, which are shown for the first time.

The nature of the programming has meant the performance was very much an evening of two halves.
The first half has quite a raw and experiemental air, typical of work seen in this venue but less so for a company of this maturity.

The evening opens with Brink, a work set to vibrant tango rhythms by Martin Lawrence, who is also rehearsal director for the company. His choreography is quite similar to Alston’s, but is distinguished by a rigorous and muscular but flowing athleticism.

Whilst the standard of performance is universally high, as one would expect from this company, Ira Mandela Siobhan – who is part of the pair first seen on stage when the work opens – particularly excels, as indeed he does throughout the evening. Sonja Peedo – in the second pair to enter – also merits special commendation.

Whilst one would expect a piece set to tango to have an easy appeal for the viewer, a stark setting, gymwear-style costumes and a score for unaccompanied accordion mean that it is in fact quite pared down and austere to watch.

Following this is the most problematic work of the evening in my opinion. Alert is a multimedia collaboration that aims to be a meditation on the nature of listening. Commissioned by a musical Society, the sound heard comprises very little which is in fact music in any conventional sense. As the work opens, we hear voices as the dancers appear to be talking to each other in a huddle in the centre of the stage, before one by one they break into movement.

Silence follows, interrupted by occasional instructions, such as “Listen” and ” Eyes Closed”. As the work progresses, abstract percussion and electronic sounds are used. Then in the final sequence, the choreographer himself comes on to the stage and gives vocal directions to a solo male dancer. This gives the sense of work being created, or even which is still in progress.

This piece is to form the raw material for a film of the same title by Deborah May, to be shown on the Hear Here website in October 2009. It will be intriguing to see how this project develops.

The second half, by contrast, comprises works which are classic Alston; graceful, dynamic and musically interesting. The vibrant Blow Over is a pulsing and energetic work for full company set to music by the minimalist composer Philip Glass, who features prominently in this year’s BBC Proms.

This performance is the first one of an extended reworking of this piece. The dancers perform a series of numbers in different pairs, alternating with sections for a large group, such as a circling rondo which is particularly successful. In one section the usual duet is instead replaced by a solo by Sonja Peedo, which is one of the highlights of this work.

After the relative austerity of setting of the earlier pieces, the more dramatic black and silver costumes, the use of singing and the fast pace of movement bring welcome refreshment to the viewer’ s attention. The pulsing minimalist score works well and is well matched to the movement. This is abstract dance at its best, a thoroughly enjoyable work.

Preceding this, and opening the second half of the evening, Serene Beneath is an entirely new work by Alston. It is musically interesting, being set to Canon a 4 Voci, a solo piano work by Alexei Stanchinsky, a less well-known contemporary of Stravinsky, and performed live on stage by Jason Ridgeway. The “four voices” of the score are mirrored by four dancers, who are dressed in white costumes with a feathery appearance, giving a bird-like imagery.

It is a short but pleasing work, quiet and introspective in mood with a delicate sensuousness. Lyrical and attractive, it is a work in typical Alston style, and it is easy to see it being a popular and well received in future performances.

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