Review – Richard Alston Dance Company, Derngate, Northampton, 5th October 2017

Richard Alston Dance CompanyIt feels like I’ve been watching the Richard Alston Dance Company every year since Diaghilev was a nipper. It’s something I always actively look forward to, and it never fails to make me smile, laugh, go “wow!” or simply admire the quality and commitment of the dancers and choreography. Other contemporary dance companies seem to come and go through the years, but Richard Alston and his happy crew are as constant as the northern star.

What Happens in the SilenceThis year’s programme has one dance that premiered only a couple of weeks ago, another that’s a year old, and another that’s an old favourite, returned to the repertoire after a decade in the filing cabinet. But we started with a curtain-raiser: What Happens in the Silence, a dance specially choreographed by Ihsaan de Banya and Laura Gibson as the final part of a four-month project between Two Thirds Sky and RADC. Twenty local young dancers took to the stage to perform this incredibly exciting, physical rollercoaster of a dance, showing ability and maturity way beyond their years. It absolutely deserved its place on that stage and it was a privilege to see its world premiere! This must have been a wonderful opportunity for the young dancers and I hope that many of them go on to have great dancing futures. The dance itself should also have a life beyond these two nights, as it crackles like electricity.

Richard AlstonOur first Richard Alston dance was Carnaval, and if my maths ‘O’ level doesn’t let me down, this was just its third public performance. The setting is a party where the composer Robert Schumann, accompanied by his wife-to-be Clara, are guests. Schumann had mental health problems, and as a coping mechanism he identified that he had two separate sides to his personality; Florestan, his fierce and wild side, and Eusebius, his calm and reflective side. So in Carnaval, two dancers play the interdependent aspects of Schumann whilst Clara has to manage both of them. During the course of the dance, Eusebius has to calm the aggravated Florestan in order to soothe the atmosphere with Clara; at the end, all three dance together in harmony.

lets jumpVisually this provides a rather amusing portrayal of a menage à trois, while the graceful dancing guests at the masked ball look on at these two men vying for Clara’s attention. Do they see Clara with two lovers, or with one troubled one? That’s part of the intrigue. The music, unsurprisingly, is Schumann’s Carnaval, a tempestuous solo played with expressive attack on the grand piano by Jason Ridgway. The dancers are clad in appropriately contrasting and complementary shades of grey and the whole piece looks both elegant and stormy. Nicholas Bodych brilliantly conveys the unpredictability and passion of Florestan, whilst Liam Riddick gives a typically immaculate performance of serenity under pressure as Eusebius. Elly Braund is superb as the interconnecting Clara, reflecting the various styles of her difficult paramour. I thought it was a beautiful and powerful piece and a great new addition to the repertoire.

ChaconyNext up was Chacony. Where the protagonist in Carnaval had two parts to his personality, this dance is also divided – by two separate musical chaconnes. The first is by Purcell, reflected by Restoration red frock coats and courtly charm, the other by Britten, in post-WW2 austerity and angst; riches to rags, one might say. The first part takes a very formal and charming approach to elegant dancing; the second becomes much more contemporary in feel, full of expression and sadness, but with a hope for something better to come. It’s a fascinating piece, as two very different sets of emotion are produced from two contrasting versions of the same musical structure. All the dancers were on absolutely top form and the choreography provides plenty of opportunities for them to shine individually and also work together superbly.

Gypsy MixtureThe final piece was the resurrection of Gypsy Mixture, which we’d seen twice before back in 2004 and 2007, in the days when Jon Goddard and Martin Lawrance were the stars of the company. The Electric Gypsyland music to this dance is irresistible, and the dancers sway and gyrate to its rhythms and eccentricities with unpredictable delight. Some of those male hip actions and bottom tremblings certainly got the young female dance fans in the front rows whooping with appreciation; because of the nature of this particular dance, that response was perfectly acceptable! The combinations of the dancers worked extremely well in this piece, with Liam Riddick and Monique Jonas providing the ultimate in style, and Nicholas Bodych and Jennifer Hayes nailing it with chic cheek. Jam packed with warmth and fun, everyone created a truly feelgood end to the evening.

RADC 2017The company’s autumn tour has one more night here in Northampton before going on to Brighton, Truro, Bromley and finishing in Glasgow on 23rd November. If you’re looking for creative and eloquent choreography performed with superb technique and genuine love for their art, you can do no better than this company. Already looking forward to next year!

Review – Richard Alston Dance Company, Derngate, Northampton, 30th September 2014

Richard Alston Dance CompanyI firmly believe that dance, when done well, is the most eloquent form of art that can exist on a stage. It’s also the case that when it’s done poorly, it can be one of the most excruciating experiences. Not that that could ever be the case with the Richard Alston Dance Company, whose annual visit is one of the few diary dates that we would never miss. We’ve followed the company for donkeys’ years now and each time they come they always deliver something spectacular. Whether it be the stunning dancing of the young talented company members or the stirring choreography produced by Messrs Alston and Lawrance, we sit in awe and appreciation of their extraordinary skills. Last night’s programme was no different and was as varied and as exciting as you could ever wish from a contemporary dance company. The overall standard of performance was astounding.

Nicholas BodychThe first piece was Rejoice in the Lamb; not, as Mrs Chrisparkle suggested, what you say when your Sunday Roast finally arrives, but a beautiful, elegant dance choreographed by Richard Alston to a moving cantata by Benjamin Britten. It’s based on an 18th century poem by Christopher Smart who used to pounce on people in the street to get them to pray with him. Nicholas Bodych gives a wonderful central performance as the enthusiastic poet with a penchant for religious mania. Some moments make you smile, but mostly you come away with a distinct feeling of prayer and spirituality to the whole piece, definitely helped by Britten’s remarkable music. The interaction between the dancers is constantly changing and I recognised moments of strength, care and support as well as scenes of enmity and rejection. A very assured, thoughtful and refined start to the evening.

Liam RiddickAfter a pause next was Holderlin Fragments, another Alston/Britten combination inspired by the work of a poet, this time the German romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin. Six fragments of his work are set to a song-cycle by Britten and accompanied by the dancers showing incredible agility and forming terrific angles with their bodies. The ladies are presented in light, flowing, elegant dresses but the guys appear to have been clad courtesy of the H&M loungewear department, which made for an interesting visual juxtaposition. All the dancers gave strong, watchable performances but I was particularly impressed with the energy and artistry of Ihsaan de Banya in this piece.

Nancy Nerantzi and Liam RiddickOften the middle dance in a contemporary dance programme is what I term the “difficult” one – harder to understand, more cerebral than physical, the worthy result of an ambitious project that was meant to make you think, and if the enjoyment of the dance suffers as a result, then so be it. Not this time. Burning, the new dance by Martin Lawrance, premiered only last week in Edinburgh, is the stuff that dreams are made on. It takes as its subject Franz Liszt, in his persona as superstar sex symbol, who had all the 19th century European ladies clamouring for his every attention. One of these was the Countess Marie d’Agoult, with whom he had two children despite the fact that she was already married, and that he continued to carry on with – shall we say – his bachelor lifestyle to his heart’s content. Eventually Marie has enough of his philandering and, despite his outrageous protestations and pleadings, dumps him and runs off (and well he deserved it).

Rejoice in the LambI loved every minute of this dance. It’s a gripping drama that unfolds with beautiful clarity and perfect story-telling and features two sensational performances from Liam Riddick and Nancy Nerantzi. Mr Riddick embodies Liszt’s charisma, vanity and flirtiness with the other girls to perfection; and when Miss Nerantzi walks on in that red dress with that look in her eye, you just know that nothing can stop the passionate affair that lies ahead. There’s a stunning love sequence when the two dance in perfect symmetry which really took my breath away. There’s no denying the fantastic rapport they have with each other, but I also really loved the scenes with Miss Nerantzi battling with the other girls who still want a piece of the action – she might as well have shouted “Back off, bitches!” with her body language and challenging expression, daring them to do something about it. Elly Braund, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Jennifer Hayes and Phoebe Hart bring a marvellously sensual attack to these Liszt-hungry Hungarians. I also enjoyed Nicholas Bodych and Ihsaan de Banya’s fruitless attempts to win back their unruly unfaithful wives, and the whole piece is danced to Jason Ridgway’s superb playing of Liszt’s Danse Sonata live, which gives the piece additional substance and edge. But it’s that fantastic partnership between Mr Riddick and Miss Nerantzi that will stay with me for a long time; I doubt if you could see a better couple on any dance stage at the moment. I think this is probably my favourite piece ever danced by this company (and I can remember as far back as Rainbow Bandit).

Overdrive girls in redThe final piece of the evening actually featured in their 2010 programme, Overdrive, and it’s one of those crowd-pleasing pieces with a dynamic soundtrack and exciting choreography. It weaves a wonderful crescendo of movement with blistering techno-throb that really gets under your skin. The whole company get in the act with this assault on your senses, and the demanding attention that they have to give it really pays off and rewards us with a powerful, exhilarating and athletic end to the evening.

The CompanyThis is the most consistently exceptional company performing contemporary dance that I know. After Northampton, their tour takes them to Shrewsbury, High Wycombe, Yeovil, Glasgow and – if it’s more convenient for you – New Jersey. For a fulfilling evening of top quality dance I can’t recommend them too highly. Oh – and if you want to see how to take a curtain call, no one does it with more elegance!

Review – Richard Alston Dance Company, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 8th October 2013

Richard Alston Dance CompanyMy 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.

Ihsaan de BanyaThe 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,Jennifer Hayes 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.

Nancy NerantziThe 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. Liam RiddickAfter 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.

Nicholas BodychWe 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. Nathan GoodmanSometimes 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); Oihana Vesga Bujanthe 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.

Elly BraundIt’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.