Richard Alston Dance Company
An Italian in Madrid, Brisk Singing, Mazur, Stronghold
London, Sadler’s Wells
29 March 2016
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
Prior to this show, I had gone ten whole days without seeing any dance; my longest abstinence from terpsichorean delights for a good while. Thus, I came upon Richard Alston’s Dance Company rather like a parched man might encounter an oasis in the desert. Only this waterhole was full of fizz!
This imagery of exploration is especially relevant given that Alston is a most adventurous choreographer. He is peerless in the UK; and perhaps only Mark Morris, of the USA, is a choreographer from the same, or similar, mould. They both make dance as an elegant testimonial to the music that inspired their creative imperative.
The world premiere in this programme was Alston’s An Italian in Madrid, which brought his choreography unusually in line with a biographical narrative. Inspired by an episode in the life of the Neapolitan composer, Domenico Scarlatti; of a period in which he accompanied a young Princess (Maria Barbara) on a journey through the Royal Courts of Portugal and Spain, to engage her betrothal to Prince Fernando. Thus, Scarlatti is the Italian in Madrid and Alston’s account of this historical footnote is coloured and enthused by the musical influences that imbued the composer’s sonatas with the exotic flavour of Spain.
Latterly, Alston has also taken to invigorating his style with a special catalyst from another area of dance. And, these have been innovations with a youthful zest. Last year’s Nomadic was a collaboration with 21 year-old hip hop artist, Ajani Johnson-Goffe. Although Alston’s latest work does not share any choreographic credit, it has been created around the movement inspiration of young Kathak dancer, Vidya Patel, with a grateful attribution from the choreographer to her teacher, Sujata Banerjee.
Patel came to prominence as the only female amongst the grand finalists in the BBC Young Dancer contest of 2015. My review of that event (in May 2015) concluded that ‘Vidya had given us the most heartfelt journey’ of all the finalists and I was delighted to discover that her expressive, fluid performance skills have been recognised by Alston in casting Patel as his Princess Maria. And here, she gives us another heartfelt journey in a charismatic exploration of how her Kathak movement can enliven Alston’s eloquence with a new kind of grace. This young dancer spins with an apparently effortless charm, while her larger-than-life eyes hold the audience in her thrall like a benevolent Medusa.
If Patel was an emerging talent, on this same stage, one year ago, her performance maturity and excellence now places her comfortably amongst the outstanding dancers of RADC. Most impressive was the seamless congress achieved in her dancing alongside Liam Riddick (as the Prince). This betrothal of very different dance styles provided a suitable metaphor for the hybrid nature of Scarlatti’s Spanish compositions, played with innate sensitivity by pianist, Jason Ridgway.
The programme was book-ended by Baroque. Scarlatti’s sonatas brought to an end a quadruple bill that had begun with a welcome reprise of Alston’s twenty-year old Brisk Singing; effectively an amalgam of four duets – separate, together and interlinked – danced to music from the opera, Les Boréades by Scarlatti’s exact French contemporary, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Alston’s late twentieth-century choreography fizzed with an urgent, yet always lyrical, effervescence; the dancers establishing attractive, swirling patterns with extended arms and fast feet, attacking the space with scything, sharp movements; glowing in the mottled lighting designs of Charles Balfour. The work finishes with a melting duet for Nancy Nerantzi (stunning in a purple shift dress) and Nicholas Bodych that ends briskly.
The middle section began with a quick return of Alston’s 15-minute duet, Mazur, danced barefoot by Riddick and Bodych (replacing Jonathan Goddard with whom Riddick premiered the work, last year). The title is a Polish diminutive of the mazurka and it is danced to a lively composite of seven such piano pieces by Frédéric Chopin, again played onstage by Ridgway. It seems, at times, like a baroque street battle with the two men offering their solos – in a contest with one another – with affected formality and knowing glances. However, Alston’s purpose is more to do with feelings of loss, perhaps articulating the expatriate Chopin’s sentimental use of folk dances from his native Poland.
This was followed by another work enjoying a quick reprise from last year with Martin Lawrance’s Stronghold, created upon Julia Wolfe’s eponymous musical composition for eight double basses, and performed – in two distinct sections – by the whole of the company, although a stand-out moment comes in a long and sinuous solo for Ihsaan de Banya. Lawrance has recently created his second work for Ballet Manila, not only the leading classical company in the Philippines but one that has a superb repertoire of indigenous dance and a particularly strong cohort of young, male dancers. It strikes me that there may be a genuine new geographical influence on this exciting choreographer’s evolving language, which is exploring new territories alongside those of his mentor.
All-in-all this was an outstanding programme of entertaining dance built upon effective collaborations, in which the spotlight shone on one new star – from India, by way of Birmingham – amongst this established elite. Vidya Patel is a rare talent to keep tabs on!