Alston joins the jolly, wayward ancients

The famed choreographer shakes a leg, with Siobhan Davies and Dharshan Singh Bhuller, for his 50th birthday.

THE CHOREOGRAPHER, Richard Alston, reached his half-century on Friday and showed that his body is still intact and mobile at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. Not dazzlingly virtuosic by tough dance standards, but then he hadn't performed in 18 years. Any way who cared when the evening was so warmly nostalgic?

Other veterans shook a leg to celebrate his birthday and choreography, joining the Richard Alston Dance Company and a cheering audience of fans and colleagues.

His piece d'occasion, Dance of the Wayward Ancients (to Bach), reunited three choreographers with a shared history and transformed them back into dancers. Contrary to the tongue in cheek title, Siobhan Davies and Darshan Singh Bhuller (also former Alston dancers) did not seem to muff their steps, nor did Alston in his lively solo.

His jolly, bearded figure has come a long way from the fresh-faced, earnest young man who started out 30 years ago. Wearing a silk cravat to add to the bit of well-bred dash, he was then touring the country to spread the word about the recently imported modern- Graham technique. In his small demonstration group was Davies, a magnificent dancer, tall, lean and broad shouldered - which is how she still looks. As Friday's trio finished, she wrapped one long arm round Bhuller, the other round Alston, and it was a poignant moment: an image of friendship and a reminder of time's passage.

A solo danced by Eva Karczaq brought another name from the past and showed that she had lost none of her serene luminosity. Karczaq wove a spell with her arms, hands scooping and feeling the silence into which she dropped intermittent words. Meanwhile Alston, sitting on the side, slowly counted the years backward to when she was a member of Strider.

Alston founded Strider, a collective of dancers and choreographers, in 1972. Sophisticated Curiosities, though a scrapbook of extracts performed by Alston's present company, went back earlier, spanning 1970 to 1990, and included Alston's tie with the Rambert Dance Company. I admired the bold ideograms, inspired by T'ai Chi Chuan, of Combines (1972); I was exhilarated by Rainbow Ripples (1980), its punchy dynamics sparked by Charles Amirkhanian's catchy patterns of recorded speech.; and I was struck by Alston's variety, from the macho disco posturing of Strong Language (1987), to the balletic otherworldliness of Apollo Distraught (1982).

The younger Alston had a hungry inventiveness which nevertheless operated within sophisticated and tasteful boundaries, He has not changed, but he has reinforced a reliance on prolix, evenly phrased lyricism which tends to melt into a wallpaper blur. This weakens his company's new piece, Waltzes in Disorder, a birthday present from Dance Umbrella that paid for the singers of the accompanying Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzer.

Even so, there are exciting moments of flashing movement and skilfully threaded dramatic progression. Martin Lawrence arrives as a bird-like outsider, a symbol of freedom, which last century might have epitomised the waltz's convention-flaunting abandon and also refers to today's dissolving sexual divisions. By the end, Lawrence has taken Christopher Tudor away from Isabel Tamen, the two men dancing what has become common place - a male pas de deux.

Alston has also found wings. His ignoble sacking in 1992 as Rambert's director in fact uncaged him, letting him concentrate on choreography. Returning to The Place, the dance centre where he had begun, he set up his first ever, long-term company. "It's taken 26 years," he says, "so I really appreciate these younger people who give me all their energy."

Regret? "Regret is a useless emotion, because it's too late. I try to look to the future." So now on to another 50 years of creating.

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