On a cold night in London at the contemporary dance house The Place, devoted Richard Alston fans filled every seat for the final ever performance of the Richard Alston Dance Company, at the theatre that has been home to this renowned choreographer and company for the last twenty five years.
Sir Richard Alston CBE stepped onto the dark bare stage to personally present his curated farewell programme, Alston At Home. Taking us back to the beginning of his 50 year dance career that started as a student at The Place, Alston introduced the first piece he ever created at the age of 21 called Solo and Duet from Nowhere Slowly (1970); the next piece Blue Schubert Fragments (1972) was the first piece he choreographed to classical music, although he commented that, as we know, it certainly wasn’t the last piece he set to a classical score.
The third piece of the evening featured the world premiere of Bari (2019), which Alston created for this year’s graduating students of the London Contemporary Dance School. Bari, he explained with a hint of delight and to my arachnophobia, is a piece set to the southern Italian music of Pizzica and inspired by a traditional harvest dance by village women who were often bitten by tarantulas while working out in the fields. A very interesting subject matter to say the least, which saw the dancers almost involuntarily and violently shaking their limbs in an attempt to rid themselves of the poison.
The next piece Isthmus (2012) was followed by a celebration of the significant influence of Merce Cunningham on Alston’s work, with a special performance by lifelong friend and fellow acclaimed choreographer Siobhan Davies and dancer Daniel Squire who trained with Cunningham in New York. And with a smile, Alston reflected that Siobhan Davies and he arrived at The Place together some five decades ago. It was quite a special moment seeing Davies and Squire perform Cunningham Centennial Solos: Alston At Home, adding a uniquely authentic element to the performance bringing their personal experience onto the stage. A poignant moment, a rare glimpse through a dance doorway to honour the past.
The evening wrapped up with Red Run (1998) and the final piece Detour (2018) created by former Alston dancer and choreographer Martin Lawrance which was filled with rapid fire, continuous Alston’s inspired movements set to a dynamic score and framed with shards of light, punctured by the wonderful dancers who exploded with energy and joy as they performed the final steps of the Richard Alston Dance Company at The Place.
It was a privilege to experience an Alston retrospective, coupled with completely new work that shows his interest in, as he explained, making complex choreography that remains legible, which he achieved for the talented graduates who will continue their journey and take their experience, and all that they have learned from working with this renowned creative force, into their dance careers beyond the Richard Alston Dance Company. And although the evening was filled with equal joy and sadness, this final edition was the perfect way to mark what is most definitely an end of an era.
Reviewed at The Place on 30 November 2019.