From the very beginning of Lockdown 1.0 it seemed to me that dance was the most “at risk” sector of the Arts. Like sports players, dancers train from an early age to reach a physical peak probably in their early 20s and then they have, what, ten good years to perform to the best of their ability, before injuries start to take their toll? Dancers simply don’t have that many years to perform at their best. And when you lose complete years out of your repertoire – well that’s tough. Fortunately, even a pandemic can’t extinguish the desire to create and find new ways for artistic expression. Of course, live theatres are not an option right now; but performers may have a new friend in the form of Zoom. A year ago, we’d barely heard of it; today, where would we be without it?
In an action-packed fifteen minutes, Liam Riddick’s new work for Ffin Dance, The Three Sections, takes the restrictions enforced on it by both Zoom and the pandemic, and works them to its advantage. He has taken Steve Reich’s 1987 composition The Four Sections for its vibrant musical accompaniment, dropping its longer string first section and leaving us with the remaining three parts in all their quirky orchestral splendour. It’s a great choice for contemporary dance, as it challenges both performer and audience to react to and interpret all its different moods and meanings.
By inviting us into the private living spaces of the dancers, Riddick has created an intimate but expansive piece, which reveals not only the claustrophobic imprisonment of working within one room but also the desire to reach out and spill into others. With Catrin Lewis beside her bed, Georgina Turier-Dearden accompanied by a chest of drawers and Julian Lewis in front of his TV set, Riddick gives us a virtual dolls’ house; you’re aware that in real life those rooms aren’t in the same building, yet the movement builds a connection and a story that unites them. At first performing independently, the links start to forge between the dancers, sometimes two by two, sometimes all three, so that their movements start to harmonise.
Despite the inevitable problems and frustrations they will have faced during the creation of this piece (during Lockdown 2.0) with all four people being in separate buildings – indeed, different countries! – together they have created a lively, charming, witty and strangely moving piece that both highlights the individual performers’ characters and encourages them into an ensemble.
Even though individual small spaces have their natural limitations, it’s great to see how combining them can create a much larger performance space. With the dancers sometimes clinging to their back walls, at other times coming right out into the camera at the front, you really get a surprise feeling of performance on a grand stage.
I particularly admired that inexorable progress towards performing as a perfect trio. By linking the dancers and their separate spaces with dynamic choreography, flashes of humour, yearnings for freedom and their tacit shared understanding of how they all relate to each other, The Three Sections not only leaps from room to room but also successfully makes the big jump from the screen into our homes too. Technically superb, and exciting and entrancing to watch – a beautiful new work for the online age.
Photos of the dancers (in An Inspector Calls) by Paul Trask
The Balletboyz have carved out a fantastic reputation for themselves in the twenty years or so since they left the Royal Ballet. I first saw Michael Nunn and William Trevitt in a Dance Bites programme at the Wycombe Swan back in 1996, sharing the stage alongside such great names as Deborah Bull, Jonathan Cope, Adam Cooper and Dame Darcey Bussell. Their name came from a TV film they made of their creative partnership, and in about 2001 they created the George Piper Dances. But the Balletboyz label stuck, and wisely they reverted to that catchy name by which they are respected and loved today.
Them/Us is a new programme partly devised by the current group of dancers under the direction of Messrs Nunn and Trevitt, and partly choreographed by Christopher Wealdon. It’s a creative process that has worked backwards. Us, the second act of the programme, is an expansion of an original pas de deux choreographed by Mr Wealdon, which premiered in 2017 to great acclaim, designed to provide more of a narrative introduction to the existing work.
And then before the interval, Them – created by the company – is a further introduction to the later content, taking ideas from the dancers as to the very varied definitions of what Them might mean (to them, obviously). The result is an exciting and exhilarating double-act of dances, with fantastic performances of variations on similar choreographic movements, reflected between both pieces.
Them starts with six dancers, in multicoloured tracksuit-type shirt and trousers, seemingly meeting for the first time. A large and sturdy cube structure is walked into place, with which the dancers interact, walking through the spaces it provides or being enclosed by its invisible walls. The dancers each set up their own choreography with one another, whether it be handshake-type gestures, jokey gymnastics or intimate closer movement. As the dance progresses, two dancers who are already working together will attract a third to their group; and then a fourth, and eventually a chain of dancers linked by hands starts to envelop and wrap around itself. It’s almost a viscous flowing movement; it reminded me of the swirly convolutions of a model of a double helix molecule.
Although I couldn’t truly discern a clear and obvious narrative to the dance, what struck me was that it was all about individual people supporting each other. This is not one of those male-oriented dances that is all about supremacy and survival of the fittest. This is an environment where everyone matters, and conflict is replaced by care. This sense of charity and kindness continues on to Us, where the six dancers now appear more formally in long grey jackets, a little like frock coats, but their movements become freer as the jackets come off and they just appear in white shirts. The whole momentum culminates in the original duet, where the shirts are also removed and the whole final sequence reminded me of a guy looking at himself in the bathroom mirror, unsure of what he sees in his reflection; until his reflection takes over and reassures him that all will be well. Or, it could be a simple love story. Either way, it’s one of the most dynamic and tender performances you’re ever likely to see between two male dancers.
I was particularly impressed with the fluidity and flexibility, not only how the dancers used their bodies but also in their control of the choreographic movement throughout. Nothing was ever distorted, jarring or irrational in its movement; even when the music suggested a throb of pain or a blow to the head, everything flowed beautifully, with the effect that it made the dancers’ performances look easy – which of course, is far from the truth! That the company members possess great skill is obvious; what they also have is an enormous understanding and trust between themselves, which really becomes apparent in such a detailed and accurate performance.
The whole company dance with enormous strength, style and emotion; but, to name names, the final duet from Harry Price and Bradley Waller is stand-out sensational, and I also really enjoyed their performances alongside Liam Riddick earlier in the evening, who is on immaculate form as always. Coming up the ranks Ben Knapper performed a fantastic solo inside the cube to powerful drum rhythms and he is definitely my new One To Watch in contemporary dance. And I haven’t even mentioned the thrilling music!
A full Sadler’s Wells on a Wednesday night speaks volumes for the popularity of the company and the esteem with which it is held. After their week in London, their tour continues to Salisbury, Bromley, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Exeter, Chester, Richmond, Guildford, Glasgow, High Wycombe, Oxford, Finchley and Bristol by the end of April. Powerful and emotional – a must-see!
It feels like I’ve been watching the Richard Alston Dance Company every year since Diaghilev was a nipper. It’s something I always actively look forward to, and it never fails to make me smile, laugh, go “wow!” or simply admire the quality and commitment of the dancers and choreography. Other contemporary dance companies seem to come and go through the years, but Richard Alston and his happy crew are as constant as the northern star.
This year’s programme has one dance that premiered only a couple of weeks ago, another that’s a year old, and another that’s an old favourite, returned to the repertoire after a decade in the filing cabinet. But we started with a curtain-raiser: What Happens in the Silence, a dance specially choreographed by Ihsaan de Banya and Laura Gibson as the final part of a four-month project between Two Thirds Sky and RADC. Twenty local young dancers took to the stage to perform this incredibly exciting, physical rollercoaster of a dance, showing ability and maturity way beyond their years. It absolutely deserved its place on that stage and it was a privilege to see its world premiere! This must have been a wonderful opportunity for the young dancers and I hope that many of them go on to have great dancing futures. The dance itself should also have a life beyond these two nights, as it crackles like electricity.
Our first Richard Alston dance was Carnaval, and if my maths ‘O’ level doesn’t let me down, this was just its third public performance. The setting is a party where the composer Robert Schumann, accompanied by his wife-to-be Clara, are guests. Schumann had mental health problems, and as a coping mechanism he identified that he had two separate sides to his personality; Florestan, his fierce and wild side, and Eusebius, his calm and reflective side. So in Carnaval, two dancers play the interdependent aspects of Schumann whilst Clara has to manage both of them. During the course of the dance, Eusebius has to calm the aggravated Florestan in order to soothe the atmosphere with Clara; at the end, all three dance together in harmony.
Visually this provides a rather amusing portrayal of a menage à trois, while the graceful dancing guests at the masked ball look on at these two men vying for Clara’s attention. Do they see Clara with two lovers, or with one troubled one? That’s part of the intrigue. The music, unsurprisingly, is Schumann’s Carnaval, a tempestuous solo played with expressive attack on the grand piano by Jason Ridgway. The dancers are clad in appropriately contrasting and complementary shades of grey and the whole piece looks both elegant and stormy. Nicholas Bodych brilliantly conveys the unpredictability and passion of Florestan, whilst Liam Riddick gives a typically immaculate performance of serenity under pressure as Eusebius. Elly Braund is superb as the interconnecting Clara, reflecting the various styles of her difficult paramour. I thought it was a beautiful and powerful piece and a great new addition to the repertoire.
Next up was Chacony. Where the protagonist in Carnaval had two parts to his personality, this dance is also divided – by two separate musical chaconnes. The first is by Purcell, reflected by Restoration red frock coats and courtly charm, the other by Britten, in post-WW2 austerity and angst; riches to rags, one might say. The first part takes a very formal and charming approach to elegant dancing; the second becomes much more contemporary in feel, full of expression and sadness, but with a hope for something better to come. It’s a fascinating piece, as two very different sets of emotion are produced from two contrasting versions of the same musical structure. All the dancers were on absolutely top form and the choreography provides plenty of opportunities for them to shine individually and also work together superbly.
The final piece was the resurrection of Gypsy Mixture, which we’d seen twice before back in 2004 and 2007, in the days when Jon Goddard and Martin Lawrance were the stars of the company. The Electric Gypsyland music to this dance is irresistible, and the dancers sway and gyrate to its rhythms and eccentricities with unpredictable delight. Some of those male hip actions and bottom tremblings certainly got the young female dance fans in the front rows whooping with appreciation; because of the nature of this particular dance, that response was perfectly acceptable! The combinations of the dancers worked extremely well in this piece, with Liam Riddick and Monique Jonas providing the ultimate in style, and Nicholas Bodych and Jennifer Hayes nailing it with chic cheek. Jam packed with warmth and fun, everyone created a truly feelgood end to the evening.
The company’s autumn tour has one more night here in Northampton before going on to Brighton, Truro, Bromley and finishing in Glasgow on 23rd November. If you’re looking for creative and eloquent choreography performed with superb technique and genuine love for their art, you can do no better than this company. Already looking forward to next year!
If it’s October, it must be Richard Alston! This marks the (wait for it) 14th time we’ve seen them tour, the first being back in 1998. When you follow a company like this over the years, you get the privilege of seeing the tentative first steps of the new recruits; how the best of them blossom into world class dancers; then the slightly older years, when their influence is more in their presence and experience than in their athleticism; with finally a move maybe into choreography or another part of the business. It’s like watching the new generations of an ever-developing family. Every time we see them it’s like a coming home party.
For the first night in Northampton, we had one very new, one quite new, one newly revised and one not-new-but-still-fresh dance making up the programme. The first piece was the only one we’d seen before, Rejoice in the Lamb, which the company brought here in 2014. It’s the strangely wacky story of the 18th century poet Christopher Smart, who had a tendency towards religious persecution mania, would accost strangers in the street into praying with him, was later confined to an asylum, and was taken seriously only by his cat Jeoffry. Britten’s music accentuates the religious and devotional aspects; Alston’s choreography is elegant and crisp and not without its comic highlights. There are several sequences when you forget to try to interpret what you see, but just get carried away by its beauty and flow. Just as when we saw it two years ago, there’s a truly authoritative central performance by Nicholas Bodych as the misguided poet. The company is just back from having performed this in New York and I think maybe its having experienced the metropolitan madness gave it just a little extra zing this time around. A beguiling start to the evening.
After a pause we had the brief but high impact Isthmus Remix, Richard Alston’s revision of a duet he made in 2013. Clad in multi-coloured tabards, giving the impression perhaps of being on rival school sports teams, the dancers move to the spiky rhythms of Jo Kondo’s Isthmus, weaving in and out of relationships with each other in a state of borderline aggression. The dancers’ arms are outstretched above and to the side to occupy the biggest space possible around their bodies, which for me created a sense of a classical position gone slightly skew-whiff. It’s a truly ensemble piece and it looked stunning.
Our next piece was as new as it’s possible to be without being a premiere – Martin Lawrance’s Tangent receiving only its second public performance. It’s inspired – at a distance – by the Argentine Tango but there’s nothing Strictly about this routine. The piano arrangement, played to tremendous effect by Jason Ridgway, lends a huge amount of elegance and refinement to the depiction of four couples’ relationships as seen through different seasons of the year. What I really loved here was the balance between power and control in both the actual physical dancing and also in the interactions between the individuals. Oihana Vesga Bujan and Liam Riddick in particular formed an astonishing partnership for their own duet and Nancy Nerantzi was simply stunning throughout. It was breathtaking to see how the dancers occupied the entire space of the Derngate stage for the Spring finale; how can anyone cover that much distance with such apparent ease? That, gentle reader, is why they are the dancers and I’m not. Also a word of appreciation for Jeffrey Rogador’s fantastic costumes; the colours of the dresses were just amazing – in particular Miss Nerantzi’s wow-factor Tequila Sunrise outfit; the hard-edged black semi-robotic costumes of the men made a brilliant contrast. For me that was the dance of the night.
The programme concluded with Richard Alston’s An Italian in Madrid, a two-act mini-masterpiece that tells the side by side story of Domenico Scarlatti’s tutelage of the young Princess Maria Barbara, who takes him to Spain, where he creates his sonatas with an Andalusian influence; and her encounter with Prince Ferdinand of the Asturias who seeks her hand in marriage under the distant eye and musical watch of the composer. It’s an absolutely beautiful dance simply to watch and admire, with effective, clear story-telling through the choreography, superbly atmospheric Baroque music and costume (I loved the accordion arrangements) and the chance for a few stand-out performers to give some crowd-pleasing solos. For this piece, the company has been joined by BBC Young Dancer finalist from 2015, Vidya Patel. She is an expert in the art of Kathak, and her contributions to the piece so beautifully blend that traditional Indian style with western contemporary dance, giving her character in this piece a thoroughly exotic edge. She has outstanding stage presence, performs her solos for the Prince with verve and grace and is one of those dancers you can’t take your eyes off! So there would be no one more technically spot-on than Liam Riddick to dance the role of the Prince, with his fantastic show-off skills and thrills, to impress the Princess. It goes without saying that both their solos received rapturously appreciative applause. Exquisitely beautiful, tremendous artistry; we loved it.
The company has one more night in Northampton (tonight – 5th October, the town loves having you!) then the tour continues to Brighton, Snape Maltings, Glasgow, Dartford and Woking. The company are always a complete pleasure to watch and my admiration for their athleticism and grace knows no bounds. Top quality contemporary dance in a nutshell.
Having discovered the joys of live theatre at the age of seven, and opera at fifteen, I came to dance relatively late at the age of nineteen. None of my friends or family had the remotest interest in it. I had always admired the concept of it enormously, but for some erroneous reason thought that it was just something that wasn’t for me. I even remember enjoying contemporary dance (although certainly not classical ballet) on TV arts programmes as a younger teenager. But it wasn’t until I saw Ballet Rambert in 1982 performing Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances that I was hooked. That was when I realised – and I still believe this today – that Dance Done Well is the finest thing you can witness on a stage. It has the power to communicate most directly strong emotions whether it be with elegance and clarity or raw savagery. Dance Done Poorly on the other hand is one of the most woeful things you can witness on a stage. But that’s another matter, and you won’t find it here.
Looking back at that Rambert programme from 1982, another piece on the menu was Night Music, choreographed by a certain Richard Alston. Ignorant me didn’t know who he was at the time, and I have to confess I have no memory whatsoever of the dance. Nevertheless, I do remember his name cropping up very frequently over the years and it was in 1997 that Mrs Chrisparkle and I saw the Richard Alston Dance Company for the first time. By my estimate, the show we saw last night will have been our 15th time of seeing the company, not bad for what is actually their 21st season.
There was a pre-show talk, where Mr Alston spoke about the pieces and explained how they were created and what they are all about. However, as usual, we didn’t get to the theatre in time for that, so the considerations that follow in the paragraphs below about the individual dances come purely from my own reactions to what I saw on stage and what I have read in the programme and online. And if I get it wrong, sue me. (Please don’t.)
The programme started with Stronghold, a new work choreographed by Martin Lawrance, that only premiered last week at Brighton. It’s set to music by Julia Wolfe, scored to 8 double basses, and they make a thoroughly overwhelming sound; sometimes reassuring, but mainly harsh and disconcerting, with a growing sense of menace throughout. You can define Stronghold in many ways. The programme gives you some suggestions: “A fortress, a protected place, an area dominated by a particular group, a place of survival or refuge”. There’s also the play on words, with “strong hold”, which is certainly what the dancers have to do to each other, and the strong hold that a fine piece of dance can have over the hearts and minds of its audience.
I found the dance instantly captivating, showing off the athleticism of the dancers, full of high kicks and spins, constantly breaking off into subgroups and switching around the numbers and the partnerships. First one dancer will appear to take control of the group, then another, then patterns of other dancers will emerge, and it all combines in a kind of organised mayhem. You can see there are power strategies being played, changing relationships, dancers influencing each other on which move to make next. It’s all very fast and dynamic, and full of individual highlights. There is a very exciting moment, which only lasts about three seconds,when the five guys all suddenly appear at once, spinning constantly and symmetrically into the centre of the stage – that had tremendous visual impact. There was a particularly beautiful duet between Elly Braund and Nicholas Bodych where she just glides onto him and envelops him with some very sensual moves. There’s also some brilliant solo work from Ihsaan de Banya, whom I feel has developed into a world class dancer. He seems to have come to some sort of deal with Sir Isaac Newton in that when he leaps or is lifted in the air, he defies the law of gravity and seems to stay up there for ages – how does he do it? It’s a very rewarding and intensely intriguing dance.
After the first interval we saw Espresso Vivace – a world premiere no less; presumably so new that there isn’t a description of it in the programme. It’s a work for two dancers, choreographed by Richard Alston to two sonatas by Scarlatti – played, rather impishly, on the accordion; baroque by squeezebox, you might say. The arrangement gives it a delicate sense of fun which is perfectly reflected by the dancers, Jennifer Hayes and Ihsaan de Banya, both on fine form. It’s light, frothy and courtly; a little bit like a dance version of a very successful first date.
After the briefest of pauses – how quickly and silently they moved the piano into place – came Mazur, choreographed by Richard Alston and first performed in June. The Mazur of the title refers to the Polish mazurka music which accompanies it, composed by Chopin and played live on stage on the piano by Jason Ridgway. This is a really elegant and gentlemanly dance performed by Liam Riddick and Nicholas Bodych. In smart suit trousers and black velvet waistcoats, their dance suggests agreement between friends who share the same feelings about the Mazurkas and, by extension, the homeland to which they can no longer return. But by dancing side by side, and separately, and finally together, you sense there is a meeting of minds (and just possibly, bodies) in a very refined, emotionally reserved and stoic, but nevertheless expressive way. Mrs C described it as contemporary dance à la Downton Abbey. It’s a stunning piece, performed exquisitely by two of the country’s most accomplished dancers.
The final dance of the evening – the slot traditionally reserved for “crowd pleaser” – was Nomadic, first performed in January this year and choreographed by Richard Alston and Ajani Johnson-Goffe. The curtain rises to reveal four female dancers, ostensibly in their jim-jams ready for a sleepover, to the very rhythmic and vibrant sound of the Shukar Collective – it’s music that is very hard to define, but it really pulsates and is the kind of sound it’s impossible not to dance to. Nomadic is a piece into which the entire company throws themselves, as the music demands the need and desire for movement, whether that’s of the nomadic kind or simply a physical reaction to the beat. The music itself is, I think, a bit “Marmite” – I loved it, Mrs C found it slightly wearisome – but the mix of “classic” contemporary dance with hip-hop street choreography provides some really original and entertaining moves that I would guess both challenge and satisfy the dancers’ desire to create something exciting and new. I thought it was an astonishing piece, full of excitement, humour, drive and vigour, danced with tremendous commitment and I really didn’t want it to end.
The Richard Alston Dance Company remains one of the finest exponents of contemporary dance and this is a great programme that will lift your spirits, set your brain racing and fill you with admiration. After Northampton, they have five more dates touring in Autumn – at Edinburgh, Truro, Yeovil, Shrewsbury and Richmond. A must-see!
Hello gentle reader! Just wanted to take a quick opportunity to give you the heads up that the wonderful Richard Alston Dance Company are heading our way – they’re at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton this Tuesday and Wednesday, the 20th and 21st October. We go to see them every year and it’s always an annual highlight of our cultural year. There’s something about the understanding between dancers and choreographer, and between the dancers themselves, that creates dance magic on stage. For this programme they’re performing three dances, Stronghold, Mazur and Nomadic, all of which are new to me; and even the titles themselves are fascinating and arouse your curiosity as to what they might be about.
Stronghold is a new piece choreographed by Martin Lawrance, which actually only opened last week at Brighton, so it’s the dance equivalent of hot off the press. It’s set to music by Julia Wolfe, scored to 8 double basses – which I guess will sound and feel overwhelmingly enveloping, a great mix of velvety relaxation and harsh stabbing strings. The piece features all ten dancers of the company, so I expect we’ll get a wonderful range of attitudes and styles, a clever juxtaposition of group work and individual characterisation. There’s actually a promotional video which gives you a hint of what it will look and sound like on stage – and I confess, I’m hooked! Really looking forward to it.
Mazur, the second piece, is choreographed by Richard Alston; the unusual name refers to the Polish mazurka music which accompanies it, composed by Chopin and played live on stage by Jason Ridgway. It’s about two friends who express what they love and what they have lost – just as in the 19th century Chopin loved Poland, a country to which he could not return. But it’s not just about a lost homeland, it’s also about personal love and loss. Richard Alston created it together with Liam Riddick, one of the country’s finest dancers, and Jonathan Goddard, whose work with the company and with Rambert I have admired for many years. The performance will be by Mr Riddick and the excellent Nicholas Bodych and I reckon this is going to be cracking!
The final piece, Nomadic, has been co-choreographed by Richard Alston and Ajani Johnson-Goffe, bringing some hip-hop influence to the world of contemporary dance. The piece is described as a combination of “Asian-influenced, traditional Romani singing with the toughness of an urban beat”. Its vision is to create a dance that reflects both the nomadism of the Roma and of desert tribes – sounds intriguing!
If you’ve seen Richard Alston Dance Company before you’ll know that they never miss a trick to entrance, entertain or challenge you. But if you’re new to the world of contemporary dance, this would be a great place to start. Why not come along to the Royal and Derngate this Tuesday or Wednesday to see for yourself? There are also some other dates still to come on their tour: Edinburgh on 24th October, Truro on 3rd November, Yeovil on 5th November, Shrewsbury on 10th November and Richmond on 19th November. Can’t wait!
I firmly believe that dance, when done well, is the most eloquent form of art that can exist on a stage. It’s also the case that when it’s done poorly, it can be one of the most excruciating experiences. Not that that could ever be the case with the Richard Alston Dance Company, whose annual visit is one of the few diary dates that we would never miss. We’ve followed the company for donkeys’ years now and each time they come they always deliver something spectacular. Whether it be the stunning dancing of the young talented company members or the stirring choreography produced by Messrs Alston and Lawrance, we sit in awe and appreciation of their extraordinary skills. Last night’s programme was no different and was as varied and as exciting as you could ever wish from a contemporary dance company. The overall standard of performance was astounding.
The first piece was Rejoice in the Lamb; not, as Mrs Chrisparkle suggested, what you say when your Sunday Roast finally arrives, but a beautiful, elegant dance choreographed by Richard Alston to a moving cantata by Benjamin Britten. It’s based on an 18th century poem by Christopher Smart who used to pounce on people in the street to get them to pray with him. Nicholas Bodych gives a wonderful central performance as the enthusiastic poet with a penchant for religious mania. Some moments make you smile, but mostly you come away with a distinct feeling of prayer and spirituality to the whole piece, definitely helped by Britten’s remarkable music. The interaction between the dancers is constantly changing and I recognised moments of strength, care and support as well as scenes of enmity and rejection. A very assured, thoughtful and refined start to the evening.
After a pause next was Holderlin Fragments, another Alston/Britten combination inspired by the work of a poet, this time the German romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin. Six fragments of his work are set to a song-cycle by Britten and accompanied by the dancers showing incredible agility and forming terrific angles with their bodies. The ladies are presented in light, flowing, elegant dresses but the guys appear to have been clad courtesy of the H&M loungewear department, which made for an interesting visual juxtaposition. All the dancers gave strong, watchable performances but I was particularly impressed with the energy and artistry of Ihsaan de Banya in this piece.
Often the middle dance in a contemporary dance programme is what I term the “difficult” one – harder to understand, more cerebral than physical, the worthy result of an ambitious project that was meant to make you think, and if the enjoyment of the dance suffers as a result, then so be it. Not this time. Burning, the new dance by Martin Lawrance, premiered only last week in Edinburgh, is the stuff that dreams are made on. It takes as its subject Franz Liszt, in his persona as superstar sex symbol, who had all the 19th century European ladies clamouring for his every attention. One of these was the Countess Marie d’Agoult, with whom he had two children despite the fact that she was already married, and that he continued to carry on with – shall we say – his bachelor lifestyle to his heart’s content. Eventually Marie has enough of his philandering and, despite his outrageous protestations and pleadings, dumps him and runs off (and well he deserved it).
I loved every minute of this dance. It’s a gripping drama that unfolds with beautiful clarity and perfect story-telling and features two sensational performances from Liam Riddick and Nancy Nerantzi. Mr Riddick embodies Liszt’s charisma, vanity and flirtiness with the other girls to perfection; and when Miss Nerantzi walks on in that red dress with that look in her eye, you just know that nothing can stop the passionate affair that lies ahead. There’s a stunning love sequence when the two dance in perfect symmetry which really took my breath away. There’s no denying the fantastic rapport they have with each other, but I also really loved the scenes with Miss Nerantzi battling with the other girls who still want a piece of the action – she might as well have shouted “Back off, bitches!” with her body language and challenging expression, daring them to do something about it. Elly Braund, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Jennifer Hayes and Phoebe Hart bring a marvellously sensual attack to these Liszt-hungry Hungarians. I also enjoyed Nicholas Bodych and Ihsaan de Banya’s fruitless attempts to win back their unruly unfaithful wives, and the whole piece is danced to Jason Ridgway’s superb playing of Liszt’s Danse Sonata live, which gives the piece additional substance and edge. But it’s that fantastic partnership between Mr Riddick and Miss Nerantzi that will stay with me for a long time; I doubt if you could see a better couple on any dance stage at the moment. I think this is probably my favourite piece ever danced by this company (and I can remember as far back as Rainbow Bandit).
The final piece of the evening actually featured in their 2010 programme, Overdrive, and it’s one of those crowd-pleasing pieces with a dynamic soundtrack and exciting choreography. It weaves a wonderful crescendo of movement with blistering techno-throb that really gets under your skin. The whole company get in the act with this assault on your senses, and the demanding attention that they have to give it really pays off and rewards us with a powerful, exhilarating and athletic end to the evening.
This is the most consistently exceptional company performing contemporary dance that I know. After Northampton, their tour takes them to Shrewsbury, High Wycombe, Yeovil, Glasgow and – if it’s more convenient for you – New Jersey. For a fulfilling evening of top quality dance I can’t recommend them too highly. Oh – and if you want to see how to take a curtain call, no one does it with more elegance!
My expectations were high. The Richard Alston Dance Company’s annual tour is always on our theatrical calendar because they never fail to entertain and impress with their strong skills and creative dance pieces. However, it’s not often during an evening of dance that you have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. The company’s new tour started last night in Northampton with a programme so full of exquisite choreography and stunning performances, that it must rank as one of the best dance nights we’ve ever seen – and I’ve been watching dance for well over thirty years now.
The company has some fresh faces and some familiar ones, and each gives the maximum onstage commitment throughout the night. It’s great to see the two new apprentices turning in such accomplished performances – Ihsaan de Banya’s athletic enthusiasm, and Jennifer Hayes’ natural charm and elegance radiate the stage in The Devil in the Detail, the first piece in the programme. We saw this dance last year and enjoyed it, but this year it seemed to have an additional spark and beauty. Performed to the live piano music of Scott Joplin, it’s a champagne sorbet of a dance; light, amusing, delicate, but with a very satisfying punch. From the moment Nancy Nerantzi appears and weaves an enticing spell to the “Maple Leaf Rag”, to be joined by Liam Riddick and his incredible physical agility you know you’re in for a real treat. As ragtime dance follows ragtime dance, you become more and more engaged with the dancers, observing their own individual relationships with each other, and your smile widens as it all progresses. Nicholas Bodych is a terrific new member of the company and is a perfect partner to the extraordinarily expressive Nathan Goodman for the “Stoptime Rag”. “Cascades” starts with one of Mr Riddick’s explosive solos, where he shows his amazing talent that deservedly got him nominated for one of last year’s National Dance Awards. I particularly also loved Oihana Vesga Bujan’s earthy sensuality in this dance. But it was all wonderful, from start to finish. At the end of it, Mrs Chrisparkle and I turned to each other and started searching for superlatives.
The second, short piece is Brink, choreographed by the superb Martin Lawrance, first performed in 2007 and here revived with a totally new cast. What hits you at first with this piece is the incredibly forceful accordion music of Ayuo’s Eurasion Tango; it’s one of those pieces of music that just cries out for inventive choreography – and it certainly gets it. Two fabulous duets with Elly Braund and Mr Goodman, then Miss Vesga Bujan and Mr Riddick are full of intricacy and intimacy; you get a powerful sense of strength tempered with submission as each dancer envelops their partner. I was only sorry this dance didn’t last longer. After a pause comes Richard Alston’s Lachrymae, the first of two dances to music by Benjamin Britten in his centenary year. Three duets this time, continuing the theme of intimacy started in Brink, but with a stronger sense of yearning and passion. It ends with all three couples performing side by side, and there was something about that final scene that I found very moving – I can’t explain exactly why, it must just be the power of dance. It was performed throughout with immaculate precision and true emotion; and I also really liked Belinda Ackermann’s pseudo-Indian costumes, which lent an additional air of the exotic.
We didn’t get to the theatre early enough to listen to the pre-show talk, although some friends did, and they said they found it very useful in understanding what was behind each of the three pieces. Mrs C and I were both slightly confused by the narrative in the final piece, Illuminations, about the relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine, and maybe it would have been clearer if we had attended the talk; although, the programme notes explain the story pretty well, and, to be honest, I don’t mind not fully understanding a dance narrative. Sometimes you can overanalyse and try to put into words something that actually is best – maybe only – properly expressed in dance. It’s actually quite a symmetrical piece, full of great choreography and some really beautiful dancing, not only from the soloists but also from the accompanying dancers. What I can tell you is that there were some superb individual scenes within this dance – Rimbaud’s brash opening solo (Mr Riddick at his absolute best); the way he sorts his way through a crowd presenting a barrier to Verlaine, dismissing them one by one till he gets to the suitably imperious Mr Goodman, which is nicely contrasted with a similar scene at the end but with a much more desperate Rimbaud; Verlaine’s entrance carrying a beautiful girl on his shoulders, only to be replaced by Rimbaud on his shoulders later on; and Mr Riddick’s final departing solo. His depiction of the positive younger man falling into despair and suffering mental torture has a huge impact – it’s an outstanding performance.
It’s so rewarding to have an evening of dance where the choreography is challenging, expressive, varied and beautiful, and where the dancers rise to those challenges and really live those emotions so they convey to the audience a vivid world of drama and excitement, expressed through the medium of dance. This really is a company on the tip-toppiest form; every single one of the dancers is a powerhouse of creativity and skill, and it’s a programme of unadulterated magic. After Northampton, their tour continues to Wycombe, Edinburgh, the Barbican, Glasgow and Guildford (and Moscow, if you like the cold). Honestly, this is as good as it gets.
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.
It’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.
We 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. I 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.
They 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. This 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.
Finally 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. If 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.