Richard Alston Dance Company
Espresso Vivace, Mazur, Burning, Brisk Singing
London, Richmond Theatre
19 November 2015
Petite though it is, Richmond Theatre doesn’t proffer much of a sense of intimacy: its ornate décor and opera house stage design give it a grand feel, whereas The Place – Richard Alston Dance Company’s home turf – is a far simpler, tighter space, with the front row of seats just inches from the dancers. This difference was palpable in RADC’s latest bill, a mix of old and recent work shown this week in Richmond. The dancers’ energy was high and their performances robust, but the emotive themes steering the bill felt a tad distant in the traditional theatre, a step further removed than I think they would have been in a space designed for contemporary dance.
As ever with an Alston bill, music is the driving force here. The choreographer has spent his career exploring, in his words, “the magic that happens when music and dance meet,” and seeks to capture that magic in this programme with a sampling of vigorous compositions by Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt and Rameau. The original billing promised a performance of Nomadic, a collaboration between Alston and Ajani Johnson-Goffe featuring ursari music (native to the Roma community), but technical difficulties saw this scrapped at the last minute – a shame, as I was eager to see whether this work had tightened up since its somewhat shaky premiere earlier this year.
The first of the two alternatives the company subbed in, Espresso Vivace, is an excerpt of a work in progress: An Italian in Madrid, a large group piece that charts Domenico Scarlatti’s journey from Naples to Madrid in service of the Spanish royal family. The bite-size duet previewed – just a few minutes long – was a promising taster, all peppy pas de chats to complement the brisk accordion bellows. Whether the dancers (Ihsaan De Banya and Jennifer Hayes here) were playing lovers was unclear, but a fizzing chemistry certainly buoyed their performance, one I look forward to revisiting when the piece in full is released.
Set to a series of melancholy mazurkas, Mazur, the other replacement work, introduced a bit more depth to the programme. The reflective piece alludes to Chopin’s nostalgia for Poland – which he left at the age of 20 for Paris, just weeks before the November 1830 Uprising – with a sequence of brief solos and duets by two friends (Liam Riddick and Nicholas Bodych) commiserating over a shared sense of loss and longing. I was happy to see the nuanced emotions established in the work’s premiere over the summer upheld in this incarnation, though the shift of the pianist from on to off stage noticeably lessened the immediacy of Chopin’s urgent notes. Still, the dancers did a commendable job capturing the music’s sentiment, particularly Riddick, who looked completely in his element doling out springy leaps and long, mournful gazes. Like the last time around, the gentle gestures of friendship sprinkled throughout – knowing looks, a handshake here and there – were poignantly conveyed and warmly received.
Riddick returned for an even more impactful performance as virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt in Martin Lawrance’s Burning, the highlight of the evening for me, as it was the last time I saw it performed. The piece is an insightful look at the stormy affair between Liszt – whose celebrity in nineteenth-century Europe cultivated a feverish female following across the continent – and Countess Marie D’Agoult (Nancy Nerantzi), a relationship severely strained by his many infidelities.
Both dancers delivered intelligent performances, with Riddick delicately balancing Liszt’s arrogance and self-loathing and Nerantzi responding with a moving blend of adulation and frustration. The pair’s passion sizzled and popped, nowhere more than in their final duet, a violent whirlwind of whip-fast spins and fiery embraces. The supporting female dancers – a composite of the various women haunting Marie and Liszt’s relationship – added a stirring ghostly dimension to the piece, and the supporting men too brought some interesting characterisations, though I do wonder (as I have before) whether these extra male characters distract from the proceedings more than they add to them.
The bill kept the drama flowing with Brisk Singing, an ode to Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Les Boréades, which Alston remarks in the programme notes is “coursing with dance rhythm.” The piece – choreographed by Alston in 1997 and restaged here by Lawrance – packs a quiet punch with its varied phrasing and unusual lyrical flow: one minute it’s all soft curves and the next, flexed feet and broken postures. The eight-strong cast moved between the clashing styles with ease, though only some managed to uphold the tension of the thunderous choral score in the gentler sections. Still, there were plenty of pretty lines to love throughout, and the final duet – a dreamy burst of sensual partnerwork – was a lovely note to end the evening on.