Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Richard Alston Dance

Richard Alston, Martin Lawrance
Richard Alston Dance Company
The Lowry
13 February 2017 to 14 February 2017

Richard Alston is among the most admired of contemporary dance choreographers and has his own company building in London to show for it. His company visited The Lowry again on tour (though this time demoted to the Quays Theatre instead of the Lyric) and proved just why he’s so good.

He’s surely a classicist among contemporary dance creators – it’s not about scenery, clever lighting, projection or gimmicks: the steps are the thing, and there’s poise, symmetry and fluidity, with movement mirroring every detail of the music he chooses, melody and harmony as well as rhythm.

The Richard Alston Dance Company began with his An Italian in Madrid, which is almost a year old. At first it seems it’s a story piece, with two ‘scenes’ and a background note telling us all about Domenico Scarlatti (contemporary of Bach and Handel) and the Italian princess he accompanied to Spain, as her music teacher, when she married. The music is all taken from some of his 500-odd, justly famed, keyboard sonatas.

But you hardly need to know that, as the dance unfolds with a man and a woman, later joined by others, in delightful games with neo-classical ideas (they do their jetés and their pas de chat) taking on ‘foreign’ influences, all to Scarlatti’s music as recorded by virtuoso accordionist Teodoro Anzellotti.

Maybe that’s an authentic touch of Italiana (Scarlatti’s music works on almost anything with a keyboard), but for Spain we switch to live piano, played by Jason Ridgway. The sonata movements are rather more Romantic, with inventive solos, a lovely pas de deux to a slow piece, and a final lively ensemble. It’s vintage Alston stuff and beautifully performed, with technical standards that are world class.

Tangent, choreographed by Martin Lawrance, is danced to Piazzolla’s popular Four Seasons of Buenos Aires tangos (played on the piano by Jason Ridgway) – a piece launched last September. It’s not the sort of Argentine tango you get on Strictly, though (well, only for the odd moment). Lawrance gives his couples (mainly) movement that is fierce, passionate, confrontational, pugnacious, tender or intimate, as the music leads: very much in the spirit of Alston, and mesmerizing to watch. This was virtuoso dancing as well as playing.

Finally Alston’s own Chacony, premiered last October. It begins with formality, set to Purcell in moving, melancholy mood, with a striking V-shape in the ensemble placing at one point, which is going to recur later to bind the whole together. The longer second part is to Britten’s Chacony from String Quartet no. 2 – a much more varied, agonized, mysterious interpretation of the chaconne form – and Alston delivers a huge variety of interpretations for every combination his 10 dancers can provide, with fascinating clinches and the odd lift among the eddying, flowing patterns of his imagination.

Reviewer: Robert Beale


Comment by Alan Hulme

Yes, agree with Robert. I haven't seen them for several years and it's great to find  standards are still of the very highest. The only criticism I have is that the passionate Tangent would ideally be the one to conclude the evening, rather than Chacony, though that would mean the pianist having to stay to the final curtain rather than being paid off at the second interval, which, as this potential re-ordering is so obvious, must be the reason I assume.