The Richard Alston Dance Company concludes its spring tour with a series of performances at The Place, celebrating their 20th anniversary with premieres of new commissions and a revival of one of his classics. Alston has always been a great incubator of choreographic talent, and dancers who have worked with him and later gone on to create their own companies include Siobhan Davies, Michael Clarke and Henri Oguike. It’s cheering to see that the anniversary of the company is not just a retrospective but an opportunity for young choreographers who might perhaps continue that distinguished line into the future.
The new commissions include a work from Martin Lawrance, who joined twenty years ago and is now Associate Choreographer, as well as from company dancers Ihsaan de Banya, and Joseph Toonga. The resulting programme is a series of short pieces involving a wider range of styles and music than you might have expected from Alston alone, all brilliantly danced by Alston’s dancers, culminating in an exhilarating account by the entire company of a revival of his pulsating Overdrive.
The premiere of Martin Lawrance’s suitably named Opening Gambit begins the programme, using all ten dancers. It’s a short piece, nicely judged as an introductory taster for the particular strengths of the company, with their buoyant clarity of presentation. Lawrence’s style recalls Alston’s but his tastes in music differ. He had used work from Julia Wolf for his previous Madcap for the company. Here it is her Dark Full Ride Part 1 which is almost entirely percussive, recalling the workings of a clock or a hissing steam engine. The dancing is clean, clear and unfussy, waves of dancers borne exuberantly across the stage by that clattering soundtrack.
A brief Alston duet from Brisk Singing was given by two guest dancers as the next item, letting the company get their breath back. Maeve McEwen and Michael Paramalee are students at the University of Michigan where the full work has been set recently. It’s a reminder of how much Alston is valued as a dance maker outside the UK. The beautiful music of Rameau is a gentle melodic contrast to the pieces before and after, and produces a deeply felt response from Alston. There is an air of decorous courtship between the couple, a certain formality and graciousness that alludes to the 18th century while still being resolutely in the present. Both dancers looked extraordinarily happy at the conclusion.
Ihsaan de Banya set Rasengan for himself and two other dancers, one male, one female. Again this featured an electronic score, whispering and scratching. De Banya doesn’t give himself the lion’s share of the work, but shares it out equally, without much differentiation in language between the sexes. It builds up slowly from the dancers bunched together via minimal gestures to larger, more sweeping ones as they take ownership of the stage. There’s an intriguing push me – pull you duet. In the studied progression from small to large, slow to fast, and in the way the dancers move from one illuminated strip of the floor to another, it suggested possible influences from the choreography of Russell Maliphant rather than from Alston himself. It’s a well-crafted piece that didn’t drag, and it would be interesting to see where de Banya goes next.
Joseph Tsoonga goes rather more outside the comfort zone for the company with Unease. He is a recent graduate of London Contemporary Dance School, but his earlier interests and experience are in popping, and what we see here is an attempt at fusing popping and contemporary dance and the friction between the two forms. He chose an unusual cast configuration with one male (Ihsaan de Banya, having a busy night) contrasted with four women. The tense, angular, shuddering style sat more comfortably on de Banya than on the women. The tension and the unease of the title were punctuated by moments of contrasted smoothness and fluidity, with de Banya demonstrating a remarkably supple backbend. But overall the work seemed a little too long for its content.
For this 20th anniversary Jonathan Goddard, winner of the 2014 National Dance Award (for Best Male Dancer), was reunited with Alston for the creation of a new piece, together with Liam Riddick. Mazur is danced to a selection of Chopin Mazurkas. Goddard and Riddick look an ideally matched pair. There is an initial duet, followed by solos for each of them. It is an invocation of friendship, tinged with sadness, with Riddick the more obviously melancholy one.
It all looks so simple, so easy and harmonious for these two dancers. But their skill is deceptive, their ease rendering darting charges of direction, sudden swift turns in the air and lightly skimming steps with fluency and eloquence, as if the steps themselves were a conversation. In their duets they support and comfort each other over an unspecified sadness. This work was made for this special occasion but it really ought to have further performance opportunities. A special word of thanks is due to Jason Ridgway at the piano intently observing the dancers and alive to every nuance of movement.
The evening closed with Alston’s popular Overdrive originally made in 2003, and the only item on this anniversary programme to have featured in the company’s tour this year. It is set to Terry Riley’s Keyboard Studies no 1. It’s a rousing closing piece for the full company, something for the dancers to let rip in. Different groupings and series of women and men in twos and threes or more occupy the stage in wave after wave propelled by the rhythms of the score. The energy level never lets up. All the dancers give a good account of themselves but Liam Riddick seems to cut through the air with particularly mesmerising force and clarity. This was a very happy birthday party, warmly received by an affectionate audience.