Richard Alston Dance Company

Friday 02 May 2014
reading time: min, words
The dance company of one of the world’s most respected choreographers performed three pieces
Shimmer by Richard Alston Dance CompanyShimmer

Richard Alston has become one of the world’s most respected choreographers. Having risen through the ranks of London Contemporary Dance School in the sixties where he first began making dance, he formed the UK’s first contemporary dance company, Strider, which was active from 1972-5. Richard Alston Dance Company was established in 1994. It is resident at The Place where Alston is Artistic Director, and is directly attached to London Contemporary Dance School, students of which are offered apprenticeships at RADC each year.

At Nottingham Playhouse, RADC performed three pieces from their nine-strong repertoire. Shimmer and Illuminations, both choreographed by Alston himself and Madcap, choreographed by the company’s Rehearsal Director (and ex RADC-dancer), Martin Lawrance.

Shimmer, set to music by Ravel, was choreographed by Alston in memory of a close friend, the broadcaster and writer Brian Robertson, who listened frequently to the French composer’s work during a long battle against illness.

For me, this was the highlight of the evening. Pianist Jason Ridgway was positioned stage left and played each piece on the grand piano with sensitivity while the dancers arrived and departed the soft but glimmering light of the stage, first as duets, then as soloists or in threes. Their costumes, designed especially by fashion designer (and recent Strictly star) Julien Macdonald, were black and web-like but covered in sparkles, red for one couple, green and aqua for others, and everything combined to give the impression of flickering light on water.

As the music builds, so do the number of dancers until all seven are on stage at once. The choreography becomes quicker as Alston appears to explore the music’s depth and the atmosphere becomes heavier and more frantic.

The final sequence however, fades back into calm and unites the music, lighting, dancers and choreography into a delicate closing twilight.

Illuminations by Richard Alston Dance CompanyIlluminations

Illuminations, which follows a short interval, is inspired by nineteenth century artist and poet Arthur Rimbaud, who died young but lived life to the full. Music by Suffolk-born composer Benjamin Britten, also inspired by Rimbaud, is bold, as is the choreography. Leaps and jumps emphasise the strength of the dancers and dream sequences reveal to the audience a fantasy world filled with romance and adventure. The costumes are simple but period and the lighting is bright, reflecting the optimistic nature of the performance. It fades into an orange and brown sunset as Rimbaud departs to Africa.

Madcap by Richard Alston Dance Company

The final piece, Madcap, is in sharp contrast to the previous two. Edgy, chaotic and lit as though set in a stark New York warehouse, it begins with a staccato solo performed by standout dancer and veteran of the company, Nathan Goodman.  Heavy music, composed by American Julia Wolfe and performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars, shouts out of speakers that form part of the otherwise empty set. The music and performance create tension and excitement. It moves quickly, remains contemporary, but hints at street dance and ends cleverly back where it started.

Alston’s passion for music is well documented and this being his primary focus, I believe, is his great strength. Some contemporary companies dance to little more than white noise or clicks. Not RADC. This company has been described as having many hard core followers, some of whom it was clear were in the Playhouse audience. However, even those who have not seen this company before will get something out of it – be that from the music, the choreography, or the incredible strength and skill of the dancers.

Richard Alston Dance Company performed at Nottingham Playhouse on Tuesday 29 April 2014.

Richard Alston Dance Company website



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