Artistic Director: Richard Alston
Choreography: Richard Alston, Martin Lawrance
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Richard Alston, Artistic Director of The Place and his own company based there, is one of the UK’s leading choreographers. Once a radical pioneer, present from the emergence of British contemporary dance – when that in itself was radical – Alston formed the UK’s first independent dance company in 1972 – he is now a highly-respected figure in a genre that has grown up along with him (but still retains that spark that helped ignite it).
Alston’s style is characterised by a return to the classicism the rejection of which spawned his career, and an intense musicality that closely marries every detail of his choreography to the carefully chosen music that inspires it.
The programme opens with Alston’s 2016 work An Italian in Madrid, which is set to music by Domenico Scarlatti and loosely illustrates how a young Neapolitan Scarlatti left for Lisbon to teach music to the gifted young Princess Maria Barbara, who was betrothed to a Spanish prince and insisted Scarlatti accompany the pair to Spain, which brought a unique Andalusian influence to Scarlatti’s music. Simply-staged and with a mix of recorded music and live piano played by Jason Ridgway, this is a lively work that perfectly demonstrates Alston’s detailed musicality. Liam Riddick quietly impresses as the Prince, and Vidya Patel creates a delicate and finely controlled Princess Maria Barbara, her Kathak style subtly delineating her from the more balletic expressiveness of her attendant ladies.
As remarkable as Scarlatti’s music from this period may be, it is not especially likeable and the historical scene is of little significance and drama. So An Italian in Madrid is vivid and sprightly but somehow underwhelming dramatically and narratively.
Second on the bill is Tangent, choreographed by Alston’s longstanding associate Martin Lawrance. Again with Ridgway on the piano, this time playing an arrangement by Marcello Nisinman of Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Tangent is an exploration of Argentinian Tango viewed through the lens of Lawrance’s own movement vocabulary. Although it starts in Summer, it takes a while for the Tango fire to fully ignite but the slow burn eventually takes hold in Autumn with two thrilling duets by Nicholas Bodych and Nancy Nerantzi and James Muller and Jennifer Hayes.
The Winter duet by Liam Riddick and Oihana Vesga Bujan maintains the heat and Tangent eventually (more or less) matches the thrill of Argentinian Tango, although the piece would arguably benefit from a more intense connection between the couples rather than mild dance neutrality – that silences the dialogue between the dancers which is such a key element of Argentine Tango; and the colourful staging looks a little clean – drenching the stage with haze might look more ‘Tango’ – but these may well be artistic decisions. The lifts and intense partnering deliver some thrilling moments.
Alton’s new work Chacony closes the bill. This is set to Purcell’s Chacony and Benjamin Britten’s Chacony from 2nd String Quartet Op.36 (1945), which is a response to the horror of the liberated camps of wartime Germany. The formality of the Purcell moves seamlessly to the intensity of the Britten to create a dramatic and intriguing world. Alton’s musicality is much in evidence but somehow this work has a stronger, more emotional impact, and some wonderful duets and group work by the full company make for a more satisfying conclusion to the programme.
Runs until 14 February | Iamge: Jane Hobson