Richard Alston Dance Company review – class and craft

Sadler’s Wells, London
Classical virtuosity combines with contemporary sensibility in this latest programme exploring the relationship between music and dance

‘How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.” It’s a Ludwig Wittgenstein quote, turned into music by Steve Reich, and into dance by Richard Alston in Proverb. It seems an apt sentiment for Sir Richard – his new official title – a choreographer who has predominantly pursued a single idea over the last 50 years: the relationship between music and dance.

That’s hardly a small thought, but Alston has ploughed a particular furrow. He makes contemporary dance full of classical sensibility, borrowing steps from ballet, minus the chintz and fussiness, and also ballet’s outward effortlessness, the virtuosity and detail in the dancing immensely impressive yet easy not to notice, feet glancing off the stage with rhythmic precision, quick skimming turns sewn seamlessly into longer phrases.

Alston’s newest work, Brahms Hungarian, gives a classic display of this deft dancing, and of the choreographer’s closeness to music. Pianist Jason Ridgway attacks the fiendish Hungarian Dances live on stage with the dancers beside him. It is almost courtly in its manners – dancers acknowledge each other with a modest bow of the head – with just a touch of Magyar style. More speed is gathered in Detour, by Martin Lawrance, a cat-and-mouse game with Akira Miyoshi’s composition Ripple for Solo Marimba, dancers in watchful anticipation before they pounce on its scurrying rhythms.

But this programme – the company’s penultimate tour before closing next year – also shows a more solemn side. In Proverb, from 2006, Reich’s music is religious in its austerity, its spareness matched in slow, elegant, modernist angles by groups of dancers subtly disbanding and reuniting. They are asked to give little of themselves – there’s no spilling of inner lives here – but certain dancers somehow more fully and satisfyingly embody the movement, such as the tall Joshua Harriette, a strong presence in his solo (from 2004’s Shimmer) in Quartermark, a medley of highlights from the company’s 25-year history.

Alston’s dance is full of class and craft; his dancers measured and composed. It’s extremely tasteful, “like Waitrose”, a friend says to me. A little safe for some, perhaps, but you are in no doubt about the quality.

• At Octagon, Yeovil, 7 March. Then touring until 21 March.

Contributor

Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Richard Alston Dance Company review – stillness, serenity and funk
Alston’s latest programme is a touching testament to his half century in the rigorous pursuit of purity in movement

Judith Mackrell

26, Mar, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Richard Alston Dance Company review – a thrilling farewell
The company’s final outing ran through some of Alston’s most dynamic newer works, with performances ranging from the spellbinding to the effortless

Lyndsey Winship

08, Mar, 2020 @11:58 AM

Article image
Richard Alston Dance Company | Dance review

Sadler's Wells, London
Alston's stirringly musical programme turns familiar scores into something exhilarating and new, writes Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell

04, Mar, 2010 @11:20 PM

Richard Alston Dance Company, Sadler's Wells, London

Sadler's Wells, London

Judith Mackrell

27, Feb, 2004 @9:41 AM

Dance review: Richard Alston Dance Company / Sadler's Wells, London

Judith Mackrell enjoys a richly eclectic array of pieces, set to Japanese tango music, Joplin and Bach.

Judith Mackrell

31, Mar, 2007 @11:26 AM

Article image
Richard Alston Dance Company, Sadler's Wells, London

Sadler's Wells, London

Judith Mackrell

30, Mar, 2006 @9:01 AM

Dance review: Richard Alston Dance Company: 40/60, Sadler's Wells, London

Sadler's Wells, London
Dance exists in the present tense, and the moment of its performance can never be fully recaptured. But it can be rechannelled

Judith Mackrell

03, Oct, 2008 @11:01 PM

Article image
Judith Mackrell's top 10 dance shows of 2016
Jane Eyre duetted with Rochester, Akram Khan imagined a refugee Giselle and Jonathon Young battled his demons in a nightmare cabaret. Our critic picks this year’s best dance

Judith Mackrell

14, Dec, 2016 @7:00 AM

Richard Alston Dance Company – review

It's a shock to see the company open with a revival of Shimmer, with its dancers dressed in crystal-meshed tunics, writes Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell

05, Oct, 2012 @11:11 AM

Article image
Richard Alston Dance Company – review
Alston captures the soaring ecstasies and dark mysteries of Britten's musical vision, writes Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell

10, Feb, 2012 @6:15 PM