My expectations were high. The Richard Alston Dance Company’s annual tour is always on our theatrical calendar because they never fail to entertain and impress with their strong skills and creative dance pieces. However, it’s not often during an evening of dance that you have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. The company’s new tour started last night in Northampton with a programme so full of exquisite choreography and stunning performances, that it must rank as one of the best dance nights we’ve ever seen – and I’ve been watching dance for well over thirty years now.
The company has some fresh faces and some familiar ones, and each gives the maximum onstage commitment throughout the night. It’s great to see the two new apprentices turning in such accomplished performances – Ihsaan de Banya’s athletic enthusiasm, and Jennifer Hayes’ natural charm and elegance radiate the stage in The Devil in the Detail, the first piece in the programme. We saw this dance last year and enjoyed it, but this year it seemed to have an additional spark and beauty. Performed to the live piano music of Scott Joplin, it’s a champagne sorbet of a dance; light, amusing, delicate, but with a very satisfying punch. From the moment Nancy Nerantzi appears and weaves an enticing spell to the “Maple Leaf Rag”, to be joined by Liam Riddick and his incredible physical agility you know you’re in for a real treat. As ragtime dance follows ragtime dance, you become more and more engaged with the dancers, observing their own individual relationships with each other, and your smile widens as it all progresses. Nicholas Bodych is a terrific new member of the company and is a perfect partner to the extraordinarily expressive Nathan Goodman for the “Stoptime Rag”. “Cascades” starts with one of Mr Riddick’s explosive solos, where he shows his amazing talent that deservedly got him nominated for one of last year’s National Dance Awards. I particularly also loved Oihana Vesga Bujan’s earthy sensuality in this dance. But it was all wonderful, from start to finish. At the end of it, Mrs Chrisparkle and I turned to each other and started searching for superlatives.
The second, short piece is Brink, choreographed by the superb Martin Lawrance, first performed in 2007 and here revived with a totally new cast. What hits you at first with this piece is the incredibly forceful accordion music of Ayuo’s Eurasion Tango; it’s one of those pieces of music that just cries out for inventive choreography – and it certainly gets it. Two fabulous duets with Elly Braund and Mr Goodman, then Miss Vesga Bujan and Mr Riddick are full of intricacy and intimacy; you get a powerful sense of strength tempered with submission as each dancer envelops their partner. I was only sorry this dance didn’t last longer. After a pause comes Richard Alston’s Lachrymae, the first of two dances to music by Benjamin Britten in his centenary year. Three duets this time, continuing the theme of intimacy started in Brink, but with a stronger sense of yearning and passion. It ends with all three couples performing side by side, and there was something about that final scene that I found very moving – I can’t explain exactly why, it must just be the power of dance. It was performed throughout with immaculate precision and true emotion; and I also really liked Belinda Ackermann’s pseudo-Indian costumes, which lent an additional air of the exotic.
We didn’t get to the theatre early enough to listen to the pre-show talk, although some friends did, and they said they found it very useful in understanding what was behind each of the three pieces. Mrs C and I were both slightly confused by the narrative in the final piece, Illuminations, about the relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine, and maybe it would have been clearer if we had attended the talk; although, the programme notes explain the story pretty well, and, to be honest, I don’t mind not fully understanding a dance narrative. Sometimes you can overanalyse and try to put into words something that actually is best – maybe only – properly expressed in dance. It’s actually quite a symmetrical piece, full of great choreography and some really beautiful dancing, not only from the soloists but also from the accompanying dancers. What I can tell you is that there were some superb individual scenes within this dance – Rimbaud’s brash opening solo (Mr Riddick at his absolute best); the way he sorts his way through a crowd presenting a barrier to Verlaine, dismissing them one by one till he gets to the suitably imperious Mr Goodman, which is nicely contrasted with a similar scene at the end but with a much more desperate Rimbaud; Verlaine’s entrance carrying a beautiful girl on his shoulders, only to be replaced by Rimbaud on his shoulders later on; and Mr Riddick’s final departing solo. His depiction of the positive younger man falling into despair and suffering mental torture has a huge impact – it’s an outstanding performance.
It’s so rewarding to have an evening of dance where the choreography is challenging, expressive, varied and beautiful, and where the dancers rise to those challenges and really live those emotions so they convey to the audience a vivid world of drama and excitement, expressed through the medium of dance. This really is a company on the tip-toppiest form; every single one of the dancers is a powerhouse of creativity and skill, and it’s a programme of unadulterated magic. After Northampton, their tour continues to Wycombe, Edinburgh, the Barbican, Glasgow and Guildford (and Moscow, if you like the cold). Honestly, this is as good as it gets.