DVD – Richard Alston Dance Company – All American Alston

<I>All American Alston</I> DVD cover.<br />© The Place. (Click image for larger version)
All American Alston DVD cover.
© The Place. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Anneli Binder and Nathan Goodman in Roughcut.© Chris Nash. (Click image for larger version)
Anneli Binder and Nathan Goodman in Roughcut.
© Chris Nash. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Richard Alston Dance Company in Shuffle it Right.© Chris Nash. (Click image for larger version)
Richard Alston Dance Company in Shuffle it Right.
© Chris Nash. (Click image for larger version)

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.

All American Alston DVD cover.© The Place. (Click image for larger version)
All American Alston DVD cover.
© The Place. (Click image for larger version)

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.

About the author

Jane Simpson

Jane Simpson has written for DanceTabs/ Balletco since its very early days in 1997. She contributed regularly to Dance Now for its last 10 years and wrote for the Yearbook of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2000 - 2009); she writes a 'London Letter' for the Washington-based quarterly, Dance View. She is based in London and also makes several trips to Copenhagen each season.

Update: In June 2014 Jane decided to retire from writing - see more on this page.

DanceTabs Contributors

Regular contributors…

Claudia Bauer | Foteini Christofilopoulou | Gay Morris | Graham Watts | Heather Desaulniers | Jann Parry | Josephine Leask | Karen Greenspan | Lynette Halewood | Marina Harss | Oksana Khadarina | Siobhan Murphy | Susanna Sloat | Valerie Lawson | Bruce Marriott (Ed)

The above list is composed of those whose work we feature regularly and have generally contributed in the last few months.

>> Complete list of DanceTabs Contributors and more info.

DanceTabs Tweets