Richard Alston has been choreographing for close to half-a-century, as he reminded us in a short address before the evening’s performance. In that time he has created a style all his own, immediately identifiable primarily by its musicality and expansive movement.
However, as he clearly shows in this new programme, he retains the ability to surprise and grab an audience.
The centrepiece of this mixed bill is the London premiere of Alston’s Chacony. The work is, in fact, the amalgamation of two pieces, composed separately to music by the 17th century English baroque composer Henry Purcell and the 20th century’s Benjamin Britten.
Given that Britten admired Purcell’s music, and made arrangements of many of his pieces, bringing the two Chaconys together was an inspired choice.
Purcell’s Chacony in G minor comes first. A group of ten dancers in long burgundy tunics perform in pairs, their dances adopting the courtly manner of the baroque period. At different points they hold hands to form a semi-circle facing out towards the audience, and a semi-circle brings their dance to and end.
The Chacony from Britten’s 2nd String Quartet Op 36, composed in 1945, follows and brings a complete change of mood and feeling. The burgundy tunics have been shed and the barefoot dancers come on in simple, off-white nondescript costumes. Their movement is now loser, bodies bend and dip, lines become more elongated. There is a mournful sense to it, as the choreography responds to the ever more plangent tones of the cello.
It is, at times, almost unbearably poignant; and becomes more so when you learn that Britten composed this work soon after a trip to Germany for a series of concerts in the recently liberated concentration camps.
Richard Alston responds to music with greater sensitivity than most, and both parts of this work amply demonstrate his artistry. The final image of Chacony is of the dancers, now divested of any adornments, holding hands to form that semi-circle that symbolises the resilience of the human spirit.
Chacony is sandwiched between two pieces that draw on ethnic inspiration: Martin Lawrance’s Tangent, also having its London premiere, and Alston’s own 2004 Gypsy Mixture.
In Tangent Martin Lawrance, Assistant Choreographer with Richard Alston Dance Company, uses Astor Piazzolla’s music - Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) - to create a dance piece inspired by the Argentine tango.
Just as Piazzolla uses traditional tango to develop his unique musical style - still recognisably tango, but something else besides - so Lawrence plucks from the tango the movements, sexiness, and shifts of power between men and women and blends them with his own contemporary dance language to create something new.
It’s a daring proposition, but it works. That the dancers show remarkable commitment and versatility helps, as does the fact that this piece is accompanied by live piano music.
Alston’s Gypsy Mixture, to a pulsating soundtrack based on the music of gypsies from the Balkans put through a huge variety of electronic filters and blending in other ethnic influences, is a send-them-home-happy kind of piece, and one to which his dancers lend extraordinary energy and joi de vivre.
As a bonus, the evening starts with Glint: a short piece Alston choreographed for young dancers performed here with tremendous aplomb by second year students from the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance.
Age guidance: 10+
|What||Richard Alston Dance Company Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
16 Jun 17 – 17 Jun 17, 19:30
|Website||click here to book through Sadler's website|