Richard Alston Dance Company at Bath Theatre Royal

SUGGEST to most people, including lovers of ballet and show dancing, that they come to an evening of Modern Contemporary Dance and they would probable have made a dash for the door before you could go into details of the programme on offer.

Such a blinkered approach robs many a dance enthusiast of the pleasure of watching this company who in the twenty five years since its formation in 1994 have formed a format that gives contemporary dance a far wider platform than fitting movement into a series of discordant sounds.

A large enthusiastic audience greeted the newly-knighted Sir Richard Alston when he struggled through the central curtain on arm crutches, the result of recent problems, to introduce, with sly gentle humour, the evenings programme in a manner that certainly was not aimed merely at the experts in contemporary dance in the audience.

This year marks Sir Richard’s 50th year as a choreographer and he chose Bath to celebrate this by starting the programme with six pieces taken from the start of those years  from 1972 Blue Schubert Fragments, which used all nine members of the company, to the 2018 offering Bach Dances, featuring Jennifer Hayes and Ellen Yilma.

All of these pieces were danced to expertly delivered and chosen “canned” music, each change of tone and atmosphere being reflected in the choreography, and by the dancers.

In the middle section of this three part programme, Detour gave us a short taste of mid-century modern before taking us into the heart of modern contemporary dance with Proverb, using the minimalist music of Steve Reich to illustrate the Ludwig Wittgenstein line “how small a thought it takes to fill a whole life”. There was no narrative as such  but the seamless way in which solo dancers, duos, quartets and the whole company picked up the themes contained in the work enabled even those with only limited knowledge of contemporary dance to follow the deep feelings that were being expressed with such power and belief by the dancers.

Brahms Hungarian, which closed the programme, featured a series of well known melodies played with verve and enthusiasm by pianist Jason Ridgway, was in some ways rather like the “lollipop” encores played at the end of a concert something to send the audience home humming well known tunes and carrying lighthearted fun images in their minds. Danced, as was the whole evening in bare feet, on a blank stage, with simple work clothes the fiery gypsy sounds and images so associated with those Hungarian Dances only came partially to life.
That earthy joy so much part of a people who have for centuries  had to fight to retain their independence was in short supply. In view of the way in which this choreographer and dancers had got right to the heart of the matter in their other works it was strange to find them short on fire and drive when faced with these wonderful melodies.

As an evening this was still a beautifully designed programme, expertly delivered which would have given anyone a wonderful introduction to contemporary dance, and to already committed fans underlined the quality of this splendid company.


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