You will travel a long way before finding another choreographer as musically apt and adventurous as Richard Alston. From his early 1970s pieces with their sometimes austere accompaniments, the next decades have seen him using, but never abusing, music from Rameau to Steve Reich – who provided one of the scores in Alston’s company’s brief season in Rosebery Avenue earlier this week.
The newest piece on offer was characteristic of Alston’s manner: this year’s setting of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, radiantly done by the on-stage choristers of Canterbury Cathedral with the admirable harpist Camilla Pay. Alston realises this with characteristic sensitivity. Eight couples in red and plum-coloured tunics are given movement of a simplicity that hints at the themes of Britten’s medieval texts, and only once (in the use of a bench-which-is-also-a-crucifix) makes a literal statement. It is dance contemplative rather than narrative, unobtrusively faithful to its theme as to its score, and powerful because of that.
So too, though very different, is the revival of Alston’s Roughcut, which opened the programme. The music is two solos (grandly done by Roger Heaton and James Woodrow) for clarinet and guitar and echoing tape by Steve Reich. The dancing is fast, furious and fascinating with bodies bouncing, flying and racing, fed by the music’s driving pulse. All unsparingly shown, not least by Pierre Tappon, who, in a wild side-ways-on leap, has one of the most extraordinary entrances on stage since Igor Youskevitch’s soaring appearance in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations 60 years ago.
To complete the evening, Martin Lawrance’s Lie of the Land, which uses Ned Rorem’s vivid fourth string quartet for a sequence of emotional tugs of war (of the “is he, isn’t he?” kind) that are a high-tension game of feelings shown or hidden. It is well-made, verging on the earnest, but musically alert, its language forceful and ever-expressive. The Alston troupe is on fine form, the men exceptionally powerful. The austerities of staging – fine lighting the only decor – are very welcome.