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Review: Richard Alston Dance Company

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Exeter Northcott Theatre

4 March

Image Credits: exeternorthcott.co.uk
Image Credits: exeternorthcott.co.uk

Richard Alston’s company return to the Northcott for their spring season with three more pieces of dance – ‘Brink’, ‘Shimmer’ and ‘Illuminations’ – rooted in classical ballet but with innovative choreography to bring it into the 21st century.

The first two pieces incorporated live musical performances alongside the dance with interesting effect. Indeed the two art forms seemed to play off each other and respond to changes in pace and rhythm more convincingly, giving the pieces an overarching sense of vitality and realism.  ‘Brink’ was accompanied by renowned accordionist Ian Watson. The dissonance of certain chords throughout echoed the conflict portrayed on stage, the choreography alluding to the passion of traditional Latin dances such as the tango with sharp lines and sudden changes in speed to show the intensity of the relationship between the dancers.

‘Shimmer’ made special use of colour and lighting to enhance the delicacy of the ‘Debussy-esque’ piano piece being played by Jason Ridgeway. With costumes embellished with hundreds of crystals catching the light, the piece truly lived up to its name – particularly in the section reminiscent of water with blues and greens being played across the stage. Group dances were also particularly eye-catching with the dancers mirroring each other’s movement.

The company offered an entirely different piece of dance in their final piece, ‘Illuminations’, returning to more conventional ballet and presenting a much more distinguished narrative with characters and progression. Using music from Benjamin Britten’s ‘Les Illuminations’ to engage with the poetic figure Rimbaud, the piece explores the intense highs and destructive lows of obsessive love. The central figure is haunted by hallucinations and his own imaginary creations – echoed by the equally haunting voice of Peter Pears which accompanies the piece.  The addition of lyrics in a dance piece added to this notion of a story unfolding in front of the audience and exaggerated the musical and physical crescendos to give additional force to the dance.

While Alston’s company always provide a refreshing take on traditional ballet, the last piece provided a poignant reminder of the classical skills of the dancers on stage and an interesting point of comparison to its modern counterpart. The company celebrated the centenary of the composer Benjamin Britten last year and so by using ‘Illuminations’ as the finale it offered a moving homage to one of Alston’s own personal sources of inspiration.

4 stars

Bethany Stuart

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