For a troupe on death row, Richard Alston’s 25-year-old company is in remarkably good spirits. Last October Arts Council England effectively pronounced sentence by ending Alston’s status as artist in residence at The Place, London’s 50-year-old contemporary dance hub. Saddened but undaunted, RADC has begun its farewell year with a programme in which new(ish) 2018 works by Alston and his de facto deputy Martin Lawrance are sandwiched around morsels from the director’s back catalogue.
The evening began with Lawrance’s Detour, an action-packed piece set to rapid-fire percussion from Akira Miyoshi (Ripple for Solo Marimba) and Michael Gordon (Timber). Alston’s dancers have always taken ballet class, which gives an elegance and rigour to their movement. Lawrance takes full advantage of this but hits the fast-forward button, selecting and combining the nine dancers in fleeting solos, duets and groupings. Lifts and spins are frequent but the contact is emphatically consensual with no ugly manipulations and none of that pointless picking her up and putting her down that can make contemporary pairwork so wearisome and predictable.
Quartermark was a neatly edited greatest hits medley drawn from Fever, Bach Dances, Signal of a Shake and Shimmer (the latter glitzily dressed by crystal mesh addict Julien Macdonald). The snippets were dutifully danced but bland lighting and a general lack of star wattage left them looking slightly lost on the wide Wells stage. The men seemed to be keeping the choreography warm without really taking possession of it and looked ill at ease with Alston’s trademark penguin port de bras. Dancers such as Jonathan Goddard (now pursuing other projects) and Liam Riddick (who jumped ship to the Ballet Boyz last October) are much missed but Ellen Yilma consistently impressed with her elfin jumps and mercurial turns.
The two full-length Alston pieces on the programme were yet another reminder of the sheer breadth and depth of his musicality: 2006’s Proverb danced to the Steve Reich composition for voice, vibraphone and organ, and last year’s Brahms Hungarian with dazzling live piano accompaniment by Jason Ridgway, a blithe, barefoot ballet which responds zestily and intuitively to its score.
At the curtain call the newly knighted choreographer, smiling and Santa-faced, was greeted with an affectionate and consoling ovation. It may well be that the novelty-seeking Arts Council England would prefer to fund younger, less traditional dancemakers rather than a 70-year-old modern classicist. This would make sense (of a sort) if there were a serious young talent waiting unregarded in the wings but does the UK really need yet another single choreographer outfit? Answers on a postcard please.
Back in 1994 Alston’s troupe rose from the ashes of London Contemporary Dance Theatre, a company that cleverly combined new commissions with choreography by Martha Graham, Robert Cohan and Paul Taylor. Rambert was supposed to inherit LCDT’s heritage role but has taken a different direction with the result that these modern masterpieces are seldom seen in the UK today. We also miss seeing the back catalogues of British dancemakers such as Siobhan Davies and Henri Oguike, whose output was funded into being by the Arts Council but languishes undanced. With no repertory company dedicated to keeping them alive, their work — and Alston’s own — will have been written on water.
Touring to March 13, richardalstondance.com
Get alerts on Dance when a new story is published