An evening of dance is always a treat, and to see the Richard Alston Dance Company on top form is a fine treat indeed. There are a few touring companies who we will always make the effort to see if they come to our neck of the woods – Rambert, Matthew Bourne, Jasmin Vardemon, Balletboyz, and Richard Alston. I realise that we were really spoilt in the old days when our most convenient theatre was the Wycombe Swan. They used to have their Swan Dance season every year – they may even still have it, I don’t know – and we used to get a fantastic range of dance. I particularly remember the wonderful Royal Ballet’s Dance Bites programmes – Darcey Bussell, Deborah Bull, Irek Mukhamedov, Jonathan Cope… we saw them all, without having to struggle into London and pay inordinate prices. Happy days. Still, I’m delighted to say that the current Richard Alston company is jam-packed with superb dancers and that this particular programme – The Devil in the Detail, Shimmer and Madcap – is as entertaining a threesome as I have seen in a long time.
Tuesday’s audience at the Derngate in Northampton was, I’d say, 80% students, which kind of worried us because you never know quite how young people will behave. Yes I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but nothing kills a serious piece of dance like teenage girls giggling at men in tights. Mrs Chrisparkle did her “glare of death” to one chattery youngster behind her during the first piece, and I noticed another turn on her mobile during the last dance, but apart from that the kids were jolly well behaved. So, well done young people of Northampton, he says patronisingly.
The first piece, The Devil in the Detail, is a re-worked version of Richard Alston’s original 2006 production, with seven individual dances to the music of Scott Joplin, played live and brilliantly by Jason Ridgway. It makes a perfect opener to the evening, with its bright and cheerful choreography that never goes over the top but retains a kind of reserved classiness. The costumes are pastel and pretty; it brought to mind the innocence of a well-to-do 1950s summer garden party. It allowed – as all three pieces did – the individual dancers to express their own personalities through the dance. The partnerships of Nancy Nerantzi with Liam Riddick, and Pierre Tappon with Nathan Goodman were particularly enjoyable to watch; the first for its intense charm, the second for its good-natured mateyness.
It’s not hard to see how Shimmer, the second piece, got its name – we were both stunned by the extraordinary costumes, designed by Julien Macdonald and now given extra Swarovski sparkle, according to the programme. Equally extravagant for both the men and the women, the costumes are in fact no more revealing of the body underneath than most costumes, but they challenge and confuse your brain into thinking they are in fact extremely revealing. Richard Alston’s choreography is taut and thoughtful, with an eloquence of movement that goes beautifully with Mr Ridgway’s playing of Ravel piano music. The whole company were superb, but I was particularly impressed with one of the apprentices, Oihana Vesga Bujan, interloping with Elly Braund and Mr Riddick; and with the extraordinary solo of Mr Goodman at the end. The combination of his dancing together with the costume and lighting provides an incredible image of artistic strength that stays with you long after curtain down.
The final piece, Madcap, is choreographed by Martin Lawrance, whose work, on-stage and off, I have admired for a few years now. This is a fantastic new piece – athletic, aggressive choreography makes dancers outstretch to grab their piece of the stage, to a clashing, argumentative soundtrack that really pulls you up sharp in your seat. There’s a wonderful solo for Liam Riddick, and Nathan Goodman gives another great performance as an outsider in the action, dashing everywhere to assert himself in the body of the dance.
A perfectly balanced evening; first the pleasant, pretty dance, then the difficult, challenging dance, and finally the in-your-face athletic crowd-pleaser. It was a pleasure to witness great performances from the entire company; maybe special mentions to Hannah Kidd, who makes everything look so effortless and beautiful, Liam Riddick, whose technical expertise is stunning, and Nathan Goodman, who is so expressive in every scene. Absolutely top quality stuff – catch it in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cheltenham and Wycombe, before they go off to New Jersey in December. Highly recommended.