Richard Alston Dance Company: Mid Century Modern “is an immersion in contemporary dance heritage”

Richard Alston Dance Company’s Mid Century Modern is an immersion in contemporary dance heritage, as Richard Alston reflects on 50 years of making work, with an evening that showcases the beauty and technique of Alston’s dancers and the breadth of his musically-rigorous work.

Sadler’s Wells theatre was seated with its fair share of contemporary dance’s important names, many of whom have been involved with Alston throughout his career. And the man himself appeared in the second interval, to discuss his decision to put together the evening. All of this – Alston’s personable manner and the warm atmosphere – made us all feel party to something very special. The talking point of the evening was Alston’s Mid Century Modern excerpts, which Alston joked, he had titled his body of work as though ready for dance history books.

Richard Alston Dance Company, Carnaval – Nicholas Bodych and Elly Braund. Photo by Chris Nash

Uniquely, we were given eight excerpts of work selected from Alston’s career, ranging from silent, exposing duets with nothing to focus on except a slowly rond de jambe-ing leg into attitude pitch; from upbeat, sassy pieces like Gypsy Mixture – featuring two young, talented dancers from London Contemporary Dance School; to his solo Syrinx for the very beautiful Kathak dancer Vidya Patel. Although, given the way his work has transformed over time, it felt a little clunky at times to see short pieces fade into the next.

The highlights were Jennifer Hayes’ Nowhere Slowly solo. Unwavering balances, a dainty, fairy-like presence and the most beautiful runs that ever did grace the contemporary dance stage; she is captivating.

Richard Alston Dance Company, Cut and Run. Ihsaan de Banya & Liam Riddick. Photo by Chris Nash

Recent winner of the Dancing Times Best Male Dancer 2018, Liam Riddick, showed us how he earned his award. His Dutiful Ducks solo was a technical mastery. Liam somehow combines unparalleled speed, with such a relaxed, lordly presence, he consumes your focus entirely.

One thing the flash-through timeline emphasised, is Alston’s incredible affinity to draw out the qualities of any piece of music or sound-score. Each time, maintaining his Cunningham-style, form based choreography, Alston imbued each piece with the music’s quirks.

Richard Alston Dance Company, Cut and Run. Nicholas Bodych and Ania Jurek. Photo by Chris Nash.

The companies new work Cut and Run, choreographed by Associate Choreographer Martin Lawrance, is a fast-moving, dynamic piece. Set to pieces of contrasting music, it is a score of shrill urgency around sudden, unsettling calm. The movement is full of darting energy, powerfully extended limbs slicing through the space, on and off stage. The arrival of a new duet or trio onstage interrupts whatever was taking place. It evokes an almost tribal sense of suspicion and territory. The glittering black, gold and silver costumes for this piece added a modern-disco type dimension, which I was unsure fitted with the piece.

Richard Alston Dance Company, Carnaval – Elly Braund and Liam Riddick. Photo by Chris Nash

Finally, Alston’s Carnaval is the more traditional contemporary-ballet, complete with a love story and dances sectioned like Acts. It all evokes old-fashioned courtship, with the formality of male-female partnering lined up uniformly on the dance floor. The movement consisting of romantic duets, many effortless, sharp lifts and bodies poised in elegant, romantic arrangements.

I loved the set: a sort of minimal, Art-Deco design, with a mint-green floor, a grand piano in the corner and several oval-structured hanging lamps, which formed a part of the lighting. The ladies dressed in ribbed black and grey chiffon dresses, the men in fitted suits and all with lace Masquerade masks.

Reviewed by Natalie Russett at Sadler’s Wells on 25 March 2018.