Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Richard Alston Dance Company @ Exeter Northcott Theatre, Tuesday March 8th 2016

“Dancing is a very inspiring thing that humans do. I really want to celebrate that”. This thought, mulled over by Richard Alston himself during an intimate post show discussion, perfectly sums up a beautiful evening of music and dance from his self titled company of frankly gravity defying dancers. 

Now approaching almost 50 years as a choreographer Alston’s been hailed as one of the most visionary figures in contemporary dance with a string of awards under his hat and five star reviews in his pocket (he must’ve run out of room under his hat). Tonight saw three (four if you count a brief glimpse of his current work in progress) separate performances, Stronghold (expertly choreographed by Associate Choreographer Martin Lawrence), Mazur and Brisk Singing.

First up Stronghold and if real life ever needed a pause button this was that moment. There’s so much movement and energy you quite frankly don’t know where to look. Inspired, Martin revealed later, by the idea of people supporting each other, the 10 dancers frequently performed in unison before breaking off into smaller groups then coming back together almost as a flock of swallows in flight. At other times bodies seem to melt into each other forming single organisms before moments of Matrix like contortions that would leave mere mortals needing traction for six months. Visually stunning and with a memorably powerful double bass driven score from Julie Wolfe the whole thing leaves you breathless...even if, remarkably, the dancers, weren’t.

Next up Mazur, Alston’s latest piece, a tribute to Chopin’s music and in particular focussing on his longing for his Polish homeland (history buffs will note that Russia and Poland had a bit of a bust up in 1830 whilst poor Fred was in Vienna, once the Russians crushed the native uprising he settled in Paris vowing never to return, sadly failing health meant he never did). Performed by two male dancers with a live piano accompaniment the piece saw them dancing together at first, then apart, then back as duo, no doubt reflecting Chopin’s own experience and his unfulfilled wish to return a free Poland. 

The climax, in which the two dancers reunited, really stirred the emotions and it’s a beautifully balanced and constructed piece that rather brilliantly brings the music, and it’s somewhat tortured inspiration, to life.  

Finally Brisk Singing, based on the music of baroque composer Jean Phillippe Rameau, was first performed way back in 1997 and still dazzles (well, you know what they say...if it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it). The most classically balletic of the trio it was a joyous performance liberally sprinkled with elegant leaps and impressive lifts that once again seem to suggest that the human form is indeed a heavenly body. With little touches and flourishes every bit as ornate at the music and some wonderfully expressive movements from the dancers it was a suitably magical ending to a soul stirring evening. Except there was more! Not sure how often they do this but Richard and Martin were joined by a couple of the dancers (again looking as fresh as daises) and a lady from Exeter Uni who teaches dance for a bit of a question and answer sesh. Listening to how each piece develops and hearing Richard’s endless enthusiasm for his craft was almost as enjoyable as the pieces themselves. In particular his description of the dancers as “huge human sparklers” (said with a theatrical flourish of the arms) was particularly apt. Magical stuff.

You can catch the Richard Alston Dance Company TONIGHT at Exeter Northcott Theatre, the last few tickets were still available yesterday evening. Highly recommended. 

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