There are very few high quality dance companies in the UK, and for the past 25 years Richard Alston has been the name behind one of the best. Sadly, this show marks our last chance to enjoy the work of his wonderful company as this is the last tour for the Richard Alston Dance Company. Although Richard is 70 he had no intention of retiring, and indeed this show confirms that he is still at the top of his game as a choreographer. The premature axe is falling following a change of funding strategy by the Arts Council. This is as unhelpful as it is inexplicable. Richard has enabled his home venue, The Place, to continue but it can no longer host his own company.

It is unlikely that Alston himself will not continue to be in demand as a choreographer, but it is a tragedy that this very coherent company will not continue as they clearly work very well together. Alston’s light and fluid choreography is particularly well suited to the music that he chooses, and his company respond with elegance and finesse, looking as if they enjoy every second on stage.

Alston rightly cherishes his dancers, and even popped through the curtain at one point to explain a change of programme to take the burden off one dancer who while suffering from flu was not willing to give less than the 100% promised. And delivered.

The Alston Dance Company are large enough to give us joyfully complex works that you could see a hundred times and not fully appreciate, but small enough for us to be able to focus on individuals, their style and presence, their skill and athletic grace.

Normally in a review like this I would detail each piece and my reaction to it, but forgive me if for once I do not. The very best of artistic endeavour does not need analysis or dissection to assess the elements that create the whole. However I will highlight one dance. Shine On is set to the music of Benjamin Britten (On This Island), performed live on stage by pianist Jason Ridgeway and Soprano Katherine McIndoe. Alston recognises that Britten’s pared down music is hard to choreograph, but the result is sublimely beautiful and moving. He even expresses the hope that this will be what happens to his dancers, that they will have the chance to shine on and show us just how beautiful, moving and inspiring dance can be. They certainly deserve better than the dismissal of a bureaucrats pen. This work is a credit too to commissioners Dance East and Snape Maltings. Good things happen in Ipswich too, my friends.

If you try to research dance on the internet there are often tiny glimpses, but for some understandable reasons it seems to be very hard to find video of stunning dance works such as Shine On. While I respect the need to protect the work against copying and pirating I do wonder if this is part of the problem in building a wider audience for the best of dance works. It is particularly poignant that we may lose the chance to see the Alston Company work for good, for the lack of accessible recording of it. Perhaps the reticence to make dance performances available on the internet is a contributory reason for the non-capacity audiences that some shows have had on occasions. More online could draw more of us to the superb live shows that Alston and others have given us for many years.

Red Run Elly Braund. Photos Chris Nash

With just ten dancers in the company we are able to focus on individuals, and it is hard not to yield to the temptation to follow one particular dancer amongst them all, but it is worth giving each one some concentrated attention. The Alston style is close and personal, and this company make difficult moves look effortless and elegant, always closely aware of each other and making moves with such precise coordination that they appear to be driven as a single mind and body together.

Alston uses dance to give us multiple new layers of appreciation of the music he chooses. Using Monteverdi for example, in Voices and Light Footsteps, is a stroke of genius that reminds us just how innovative that composer was in his own time. I hope that we will find Richard popping up with new work very soon. In a perfect world this would be a work that holds together this exceptional company. Meanwhile please catch them at the remaining shows on this tour, in Malvern, Cambridge or London. They will give you a lifelong memory of just how good dance can be.

© Julian Swainson 2020


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