The Place, London
June 9, 2015
Returning home for its 20th anniversary, the Richard Alston Dance Company presented a variety of works old and new as part of its celebrations. The new came in the form of commissions for young choreographers Joseph Toonga and company dancer Ihsaan de Banya. The iconic works are still as vivid as ever, the evening culminating in the high of Overdrive, the company blockbuster that has the dancers performing in a never-ending cycle of energy at a relentless pace.
The world premiere of Opening Gambit by former dancer, now associate choreographer and rehearsal director Martin Lawrance, set the tone for the evening. Right from its strong opening, it leaps across the stage, the dancers investing it with tumultuous energy. As the movement continues to fly around the space, the dancers appear like breezes in the otherwise still air. All the time, the elegant Alston lines are clearly evident amongst the driving percussion.
Up next was Brisk Singing, danced by University of Michigan students Maeve McEwen and Michael Parmelee as guests. Choreographed by Alston in 1997, its Baroque feel extends to the movement; yet it felt stagnant. Despite the sensual, calming quality of Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s score, the movement felt simply placed on the dancers rather than embodied. It was ultimately pleasant and serene but held none of the dynamism of Opening Gambit.
Rasengan, another world premiere, is by company dancer Ihsaan de Banya. Here the evening plateaued. The piece – and its white noise soundtrack – felt misaligned and lacked engagement; and the movement failed to evoke any sense of purpose. The work is also not so easily recognisable as being from the Richard Alston Dance Company; and while new work such as this develops the company’s repertoire and opens up numerous opportunities for the dancers, it felt out of place for the 20th anniversary programme.
The same can be said for Unease, choreographed by Joseph Toonga. The long limbed dancers did display the iconic smoothness of movement which is definitive of Alston’s company, however the feeling of celebration was not fully achieved. The urban landscape created provides an interesting backdrop for the usually classical-contemporary dancers yet the staccato movements do not always suit their bodies. Its humanised and pedestrian feel is enhanced by the costumes of jeans and vests, but the piece fails to elevate itself to the level of other, more engaging parts of the evening.
Yet another world premiere was the duet Mazur created by Richard Alston on Jonathon Goddard and Liam Riddick. The outstanding Goddard is a former company dancer, and Riddick, a present company member fast becoming one to watch for his technical brilliance and enrapturing performances. Using music from Chopin’s Mazurkas, which symbolise Chopin’s love for his homeland, Mazur (another word for Mazurka) is a dance for two friends sharing what they love and what they feel they have lost.
Ultimately for Goddard and Riddick, their homeland is the shared love of dance. Watching them perform was a privilege. The technically secure Riddick performs solemnly, his dance balanced by Goddard’s pleasantries. The movement is simple, but was superbly executed, showing off the dancers’ prowess in both placement and performance. The subtle shifts in mood echo the slowing tempo of the score, the pair often seeming to stretch movements for a microsecond more. Sharp and deft turns from Riddick were calmed by his mannerisms on stage, including an almost self-conscious lowering of his eyes. Goddard’s ‘Alston technique’ was of the highest level.
Overdrive sees the full company take to the stage in the classic Alston piece which is now nine years old. The three girls in red worked seamlessly as a trio interspersed with the four grey males, and the remaining three – a pair of women in gradually turning ombré between the two colours, and a fifth male in grey – attacked the piece as one. The slick work is full of Alston’s clean lines and joyful expressions. It’s the ultimate uplifting closing performance. The dancers’ athleticism and artistry was married perfectly, with the constant sense of energy mirrored in the Terry Riley’s driving score. The simple staging is effective in showing off their technique, although the illusion was somewhat diminished by the occasional appearance of some of the women’s underwear.