His dancers skim across the stage like birds in flight

09 Apr 2018

As he approaches his 70th birthday, choreographer Richard Alston reached another milestone: 50 years of making dances. He celebrated with a programmelooking back and forward. Mid Century Modern is a compilation of favourite moments, from the 1970s to the new solo made for the Indian classical dancer Vidya Patel. The whole is a vivid celebration of Alston’s work: his lyricism, his musical phrasing and his delight in the gifts of his dancers.

Alston has been a quietly central part of British contemporary dance, whether collaborating with other companies or founding his own. Looking back, he saw himself as “a fierce young man, I for Integrity on my t-shirt”. He’s very much a dance-for-dance’s sake choreographer – never splashy, never inclined to jazz hands. That can give his work an introverted air, but he also has a glowing pleasure in dance and music. His dancers skim across the stage like birds in flight, with fast, airy footwork or lucid held poses.

In Rainbow Bandit, performed in silence, his cast dip and plunge with speedy precision; even without music, it has powerful momentum and shape. One of the strongest sections in Mid Century Modern comes from Proverb, created to mark composer Steve Reich’s birthday in 2006. The score is both rich and spare, with sumptuous soprano voices layering the phrase “How small it takes to fill a whole life”. The dancing matches both the lavishness and the austerity, with clean lines and a gorgeous quality of movement. Alston has plans to revive the whole work.

The new solo Syrinx shows off Vidya Patel’s authority, the serene breadth and fluidity of her movements. As a guest artist, Patel brings her own training to Alston’s style, meeting perfectly in the middle. Liam Riddick, shines in the quirky solo Dutiful Ducks. There’s also a welcome touch of theatre in the swagger of The Signal of a Shake, the dancers projecting out to the audience as well as to each other.

This happy celebration shared a programme with two new works. Martin Lawrance’s Cut and Run is an urgent piece to rattling industrial music. It has plenty of attack, but lacks variety.

Alston’s new Carnaval sets piano music by Robert Schumann, with dancers evoking the composer’s inner life, with moody Nicholas Bodych and sunny Liam Riddick finding harmony with Elly Braund’s fleet-footed Clara. Carnaval could do with more theatrical framing – Ikea lampshades aren’t enough to create a ballroom atmosphere – but there’s a lovely warmth to Jason Ridgway’s playing and the dancers’ response.

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