Richard Alston Dance Company – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Choreographer: Richard Alston

Reviewer: Maggie Constable

At the Derngate this week, Richard Alston Dance Company (RADC) stages yet another set of wonderfully exotic dances, in the form of Carnaval, Chacony and Gypsy Mixture, which have rightly received much praise from critics and public alike. The company is renowned for its dynamic choreography and its highly-skilled and athletic dancers.

A bonus this evening is the premiere of Two Thirds Sky’s What Happens in the Silence which has come from Richard Alston’s education programme and the Creative Learning hub of the theatre and which involves twenty talented young dancers from schools and colleges in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. Alston himself oversaw the development of the piece whilst Ihsaan de Banya (one of the RADC dancers) is choreographer. An amazing feat all round.

Carnaval is a new dance devised by choreographer of some 50 years, Richard Alston himself, and performed to Robert Schumman’s superb Carnaval Opus 9 (played beautifully by Jason Ridgway on the piano on stage no less). Carnaval is made up of 21 emotive piano pieces, music which very much reflects the composer’s complex and intense personality. Indeed, the dance exhibits the dual nature of the composer’s personality contrasting light, almost skipping movements with pas de chat against dark and quasi-staccato ones. There are many classical ballet steps which work perfectly to exhibit the calmer side of Schumman’s nature in the form of Eusabius, danced with verve and passion by Liam Riddick. The alter-ego is performed by Nicholas Bodych, who brings out well the fierce, disturbed character, Florestan. The Venetian masks are delightful and are reminiscent of Balla Maschera but with a subtler touch. A clear and easy narrative makes the whole piece very accessible. Elly Braund’s pas de deux with Roddick is glorious and the turn-out of her feet incredible.

Chacony is danced to differing pieces of music from Purcell and Britten which nevertheless have the same form, both being very powerful and dramatic. Formation is the key word here and that perfectly describes the chaos versus order as denoted frequently by the dancers’ V formations, a clever motif. Britten’s music is based on what he saw at the end of World War 2 and the strong effect it had on him but with the end of the piece demonstrating hope and the power of human spirits. The ambient red colour of the backdrop and the elegant robes works well with the poignant music. The dancing is dynamic and striking with some touchingly flowing duets.

The last piece, Gypsy Mixture, is truly uplifting in every sense and is a lively contrast to the previous two. The eclectic and electric music covers the world in a matter of minutes! From Macedonian and Chilean strokes in Ust Isti Baba to Romanian Samba in Dumbala Dumba via Asian tabla in Fantasia for Clarinet the audience positively delights in the manic, joyous and infectious movements with the oh-so-colourful costumes. One cannot help but toe-tap and wish to dive on stage to join in. Nicholas Bodych in the latter dance and in the last one too, Lest Sexy, is nothing short of stunning in his speed, energy, timing and dynamism. And the title of the last piece is certainly most apt.

Fotini Dimou designed the classic costumes for Carnaval and Peter Todd for the other two pieces, all of these working cleverly to enhance both the dance and the music. Dimou is an award-winning designer who has already worked with the Alston company on works such as An Italian in Madrid and Illuminations. Sets are simple but effective. Mark Lawrance (sometime choreographer)’s re-staging in Gypsy Mixture has helped.

Alston’s choreography is always captivating but tonight he and his dancers have excelled themselves. This is an utterly absorbing evening’s dance, not to be missed.

Runs until 6 October 2017 | Image: Contributed

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