Sunday, 18 June 2017

REVIEW: Richard Alston Dance Company: Tangent, Chacony & Gypsy Mixture at Sadler’s Wells

The Richard Alston Dance Company is a medium sized British contemporary dance company founded in 1994, currently presenting Tangent, Chacony, and Gypsy Mixture plus extra Glint over a two-hour evening on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells. A prolific choreographer for nearly half a decade, Richard Alston is renowned for his intimate relationship between music and movement, and as he came out and told us himself before the start of the performance, tonight would be no exception. His genial introduction included an ‘apology’ for what we were about to see and also a nod to current affairs, facetiously reassuring us that there was no disaster, and that seeing him on stage didn’t mean that something was wrong. 

The curtain raiser Glint was apparently created at a difficult time for Alston back in 2016, where he suffered from a decrease in hearing. Not being able to hear high frequencies he turned to percussion, using John Cage’s rich tapestry ‘Second Construction for Percussion’ that starts with a rhythm seeming largely Latin American but then is constantly interrupted by irregularities, all ostensibly intended to upset any sense of order. The ensemble of eight perform a structured and dense dance with costumes akin to a Zoom lolly or European flag, giving it a communist rally or somehow nationalistic feel. The dancers drew together then splintered like pick-up sticks, creating a busy and hypnotic effect. 

Authored by Martin Lawrence, the second piece Tangent takes a different turn. The piece is less abstract in the sense that we are immediately presented with the male-female dance couple trope, accompanied by a pianist grounding us in a more traditional starting point. The music is Astor Piazzolla Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas Piano Solo, described as homage to the tango and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, if you can imagine such a blend, smoothly played by pianist Jason Ridgway. Each couple took turns in the spotlight, presenting their own story and different moods from the different seasons. For me the standout portion was autumn performed by Oihana Vesga Bujan and Liam Riddick dressed in rich indigo with a lighting design to die for, this was noticeably more delicate than the others but also more passionate. 

The Chaconne was a musical composition popular in the baroque era, and the
formal order of the court hits you at the beginning of Chacony as the dancers assemble in striking red Middle Eastern dress. The music is an arrangement of Henry Purcell’s Chacony in G minor by Benjamin Britten who Alston seems to have an obsession with, having created multiple choreographies to his name. Britten had made this music as a response to visiting recently liberated concentration camps in 1945 Germany, with the formal framework of the Chacony becoming Britten’s “means to express his deep feelings about coming face to face with horror.” Alston transmutes this into a performance displaying the formal order of the Chacony and then showing that order broken down and rendered vulnerable. The piece has a regal-like quality full of richness, with an arc that reaffirms the resilience of the human spirit. 

Alston and co rev it up for finale Gypsy Mixture which was a riot of colour and sound. Using the music of Electric Gypsyland this took me to a hot summer’s night; a tutti frutti concoction of techno with musical influences from Chile and Brazil, where complex cultural mixes were hammered home to exhilarating effect. A highly charged and playful note to finish on, this was pure joy. 

If like me, the world of dance is mostly shrouded in mystery I would definitely recommend getting yourself down to Sadler’s Wells and taking a punt on something like this. As with literature, how do black marks on a page produce a cognitive response, or in music at what point does rhythm magically appear from a beat, how does the structured movement of a human being evoke a powerful and nonverbal response, that provides a mighty commentary on human cultures and the nature of contact? 

Alston and his team are highly attuned with these questions, yielding some exquisite results. 

Review by Anna Williams 

Rating: ★★★★

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