Review – Richard Alston Dance Company, Derngate, Northampton, 4th October 2011

Richard Alston Dance CompanyIt’s always a pleasure to catch up with the Richard Alston Dance Company, on tour until the end of November. It’s been 18 months since I last saw them! The current programme of three highly entertaining pieces is a joy to watch and confirms (to my mind at least) that the company is the most skilled bunch of dancers doing contemporary work in the UK.

Anneli BinderWe started off with Unfinished Business, choreographed by Richard Alston to three movements by Mozart. It’s clean, crisp and athletic, but also thoughtful and reflective. It’s very much helped by the plaintive piano music played beautifully by Jason Ridgway. The second movement is a tender duo superbly danced by Anneli Binder and Pierre Tappon, which delighted the audience so much they broke into applause before it had finished. Pierre TapponI also really enjoyed the sunny liveliness of Hannah Kidd’s performance. But the star of this piece was the terrific solo work by Liam Riddick, who I haven’t seen before but whom I predict Will Do Great Things.

Hannah KiddThey didn’t call the end of the first interval and Mrs Chrisparkle and I were so enjoying our Sauvignon Blanc that we only retook our seats ten seconds before the curtain rose on the second piece, Lie of the Land. This is a new(ish) dance choreographed by Martin Lawrance who was always my favourite dancer with the company in the past. Liam RiddickThis is another superb piece, full of vitality and style, bringing out the best again in Ms Binder and Mr Riddick, but also a fantastic performance by the wonderfully named Andres de Blust Mommaerts. It was a piece that reminded me of why I love contemporary dance, something I haven’t felt in a theatre for a long while.

Andres de Blust MommaertsFinally we had the return of Roughcut, originally created by Richard Alston for Rambert in 1990 – and I think I remember it. Now reconstructed (whatever that means) by Martin Lawrance, it’s another exuberant, engaging piece danced to electro rhythms with full-on joy. Martin LawranceIf I have a criticism, it’s that there wasn’t (as it seemed to me) overall much of a contrast of mood and style from the previous dance. The costumes for all three dances were all similarly neutral and plain, which again didn’t provide an additional visual stimulation to differentiate them in my brain. But this is the most minor quibble. All the dancers were on top form and it’s a highly entertaining performance.

When it’s done at its best, I still believe that dance is the purest and most eloquent form of entertainment you can see on a stage. That’s what I witnessed last night.

Review – Richard Alston Dance Company, Wednesday 24th March, Derngate, Northampton

Richard Alston Dance CompanySeeing the Richard Alston Dance Company on their annual tour has become a regular treat for us. Over the years we have seen dance companies come and go, some have a brief spell of brilliance in the limelight and then fade, others plod away worthily but unremarkably trying to carve out a reputation in the world of performing arts. But Richard Alston’s company has remained one of the very few where you can always rely on a high standard of performance and choreography. I think only NDT2 from the Netherlands and Mark Morris from the US are comparable.

And, I’m delighted to say, that situation continues to apply. It was a terrifically entertaining programme, structured perfectly, (cheery start; complex middle bit; even cheerier conclusion) and delighting the smallish but appreciative audience. First up, we had “To Dance and Skylark” – the title comes from a ship’s captain’s order to his crew to take some exercise – and it’s a great opener; lively, bright, fluid of movement, engaging – all those elements you need to start the evening. Performed to a couple of the Brandenburg Concertos, so you’ve got that interesting mix of baroque and modern.

Richard Alston Middle section was “Light Flooding into Darkened Rooms” – this is the complex, slightly inaccessible and challenging piece of the programme – basically a pas de deux where the dancers move in and out of light boxes suggestive of sunlight piercing old window frames, to live performance of melodic Spanish guitar and then discordant mandolin. Strongly performed, demanding your attention, slightly over long for my liking, but then I am getting old.

Martin LawranceFinally we had “Overdrive”, one of those sparky, lively, electronic musicked, athletic pieces that really gets your adrenalin going and makes you want to jump up and join them. Alston at his absolute best.

The dancers were great; Martin Lawrance has been their star dancer for some time now and always takes complete control of the stage. He is mesmeric. Anneli BinderI see he is now the company’s Rehearsal Director, and indeed he choreographed To Dance and Skylark. I’m sure he is going to have a great future in dance. The other dancers all worked together splendidly (I particularly liked Anneli Binder for her grace and presence) – although one dancer did I feel slightly “overdance” – he pulled your eye away from the group as his reach and gestures exceeded those of the others, a bit like Cassie in “A Chorus Line” “bopping the hip”. Still, a most minor quibble.

A few years ago I emailed the company after seeing them at the Wycombe Swan on tiptop form and said how much I enjoyed the show. The company manager replied saying he would make sure Richard knew of my comments. I was really chuffed at that.

Total recommendation.