It may be his name only on the posters, but Richard Alston firmly shares the limelight with Martin Lawrance in this quadruple bill, which sees the premiere of Lawrance’s new work, Burning, placed alongside three of Alston’s own pieces (rotating from a programme of five).
Rejoice in the Lamb is far more uplifting than its subject matter might suggest. Alston based the piece on Benjamin Britten’s cantata adaptation of the work of 18th century poet Christopher Smart, a man who was incarcerated in an asylum – along with his cat Jeoffry – for religious mania. Dispelling the usual stereotypes of filth and madness, Alston’s vision of mental disturbance is colourful and lucid. He characterises Smart (danced by Nicholas Bodych) as pious but vivacious, his bent-kneed supplications to heaven balanced against passages of elegant curves and leaps. Smart is joined by a chorus in pastoral petal-colours, whose repeated outstretched arms and pageant-ish formations hint at the open-hearted innocence that allowed the poet to connect so keenly with God.
Britten’s music scores the next piece as well, Holderlin Fragments, based on the piece of the same name. More measured than Rejoice in the Lamb, these refined vignettes take the form of short solos, duets and group segments, the music carving the dance into clean lines and curling canonical passages, all with a considered classical feel.
Lawrance’s choreography has paid two fairly recent visits to Edinburgh through Scottish Ballet, with athletic Run For It and thrilling Dark Full Ride. In Burning his muscular style is used to dramatic effect, exploring more emotional subject matter; obsession and jealousy. Liam Riddick plays 19th century composer Franz Liszt, the object of lustful ‘Lisztomania’ for many women of his era. Feverishly pursued, Riddick turns quickfire dips and glamorous duets with each of his admirers, fuelled by a lightning urgency that heats up the stage. But it is his duets with Nancy Nerantzi – singled out in red as Marie D’Agoult, the married countess whose passion was reciprocated by Liszt – that really pull us in. He flicks a kick between her legs, she clings backwards to him as they swirl – it’s a chemistry that gets to the violent heart of affairs, with an ending that surprises in terms of its victor and vanquished.
If the temperature needs cooling a little after Burning, precise, abstract Overdrive is perfect for the job. Alston has called it ‘the most detailed and exact dance I have ever made.’ Certainly the unstoppable rhythms composer Terry Riley layers and builds provide ample challenges for the dancers, who meet its intricate demands with buckets of energy. Though more tempered than either Burning or Lamb, its pure dance and mathematical principles play to the baroque notion of form itself being as beautiful as the things it can contain.