Richard Alston Dance Company
All American Alston: Shuffle it Right, Roughcut, The Devil in the Detail
DVD, 2013, £21.50
The music for all three of the pieces on Richard Alston’s latest DVD may be ‘all American’ but the choreography isn’t: there’s nothing here to dilute Alston’s reputation as the most ‘all English’ of today’s major dancemakers. What does happen, though, is that the music in each case inspires him to break through the reserve that can sometimes make me feel distanced from the heart of his work – while I still wouldn’t describe any of these dances as extrovert, even on the screen they actively engage.
Each work is accompanied by a couple of minutes of introduction from the choreographer. Alston Is illuminating and mercifully unpretentious, focusing mainly on his choice of music but in the case of Roughcut also giving us a little insight into his emotional sources. His father had died a short time earlier, and listening to Steve Reich’s music (New York Counterpoint and Electric Counterpoint) Alston found the drive and the pulsing rhythms in the score gave him, at that time, a strong sense of life as a continuing force. This performance was filmed at the Place and directed – like the other two pieces – by Darshan Singh Buller. I liked the way you can choose between an edited multi-camera version and a static, wide-angle view – it’s interesting to try the same section in both modes – and the music, heard through headphones, sounds amazing: better, I thought, than in the theatre.
Shuffle it Right is set to nine Hoagy Carmichael songs. Alston cites Twyla Tharp and her Bix Pieces as his immediate inspiration but I found the mood reminded me strongly of Paul Taylor – a sort of English Company B, without the WW2 overtones. Pierre Tapon has a particularly brilliant solo, and the work ends, rather unexpectedly, with another solo – Stardust, danced with appealing sincerity by Anneli Binder. The order of the different sections was the most difficult thing to work out, according to Alston: he tried a lot of permutations (hence the title of the piece) and it’s interesting how the quiet ending retrospectively changes the feel of the whole piece.
Richard Alston Dance Company – The Devil in the Detail
Finally, my own favourite – Devil in the Detail. I loved this piece when I saw it live and though some of the joie de vivre evaporates between stage and screen, I love it still. Alston uses seven Scott Joplin numbers, some of them very well known (and a couple of them also familiar from Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations); he’s influenced this time by Frederick Ashton and that’s plain to see in the wit and the timing as well as in the speed of the footwork. Pierre Tapon and Nathan Goodman dance the cleverest duo: for me it will always be haunted by the memory of Jonathan Goddard and Peter Furness, but this newer cast produces an exhilarating interpretation too.
In sum, I really enjoyed this disc – somewhat to my surprise, I admit: I’m not usually a great fan of filmed dance except as a historical record, but these performances really do come over well and – best of all – make me look forward to seeing them again on stage.