Music: Scott Joplin, Maurice Ravel, Julia Wolfe / Bang On A Can All Stars
Choreographers: Richard Alston, Martin Lawrance.
Piano: Jason Ridgway
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
There’s some mood swings tonight in the works the Richard Alston Dance Company have chosen to bring to the Lowry, an evening that opens with a playful frolic and ends with menacing intensity.
It’s difficult to imagine how different contemporary dance in Britain today would be without Alston’s influence. From his 12 years as Resident Choreographer and then Artistic Director at Ballet Rambert, to his now almost twenty-year stint as Artistic Director of The Place, heading up the Richard Alston Dance Company.
Alston is still furiously making contemporary work that reflects a deep interest in both music and classical ballet and the first two pieces tonight reflect those influences. The Devil In The Detail is a joyous, Scott Joplin scored work that blasts on to the cavernous stage (which they share only with pianist Jason Ridgway and a grand piano), evoking a glorious summer day. The piece seems such a pleasure for the dancers that at times it’s like they’re just doing it for fun, that they’ve forgotten the audience is there. It’s a show-offy, flirty delight.
The final piece of the evening is quite the reverse. Madcap is a dark and discomforting piece, which draws from the intensity of Julia Wolfe’s Lick (1994) and Believing (1997) both recorded by the fantastic Bang On A Can All Stars. Choreographer Martin Lawrance, a true protégé of Alston, gave himself quite a challenge when he chose to create a piece to these two frantic, dissonant works.
He creates a West Side Story style street battle, infused with modern street dance and martial art moves. It’s a work full of attitude as dancers edge round one another, power aggressively across the stage, square off against one another then flee. Some are saved only by union, solidarity reflected in some intense and glorious duets. Nathan Goodman, who creates some of the piece’s most startling moments, scuttles across the stage like a vicious but cornered animal, fiendishly fast and threatening.
Sandwiched between these two polarised works is Shimmer. On a dark, stage, shared again with pianist Jason Ridgway and the curvaceous grand piano, the company perform Alston’s second work of the evening. Shimmer is a very beautiful work that has all the marks of a great piece of dance – emotional music (played by Jason Ridgway) which rings out through the theatre with glorious clarity, Julien Macdonald’s fabulous jewelled cobwebby costumes that glint and well…shimmer, in the low lights, and impeccable choreography that draws on classical roots. But it somehow sweeps over you, leaving you not cold, but slightly dazed.
The piece is at its best when there are fewer dancers, when a number of the company are dancing they are occasionally not as tightly coordinated as they might be, slightly out of step with one another. The defining moment of the work, though, comes at the end when Nathan Goodman performs an exquisite solo which alone would have made the evening worthwhile.