Dance Richard

Richard Alston Dance Company Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
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The Independent Culture
'Perhaps these dancers just need time to discover the right balance in order to make the work look less like an exercise in cryonic suspension'

When the Richard Alston Dance Company made its debut in 1994, it seemed possessed of a backbone of authority which owed as much to Alston's inclusion of at least six former members of the dissolved London Contemporary Dance Theatre as to his own choreographic maturity. A year later, dancers from the original line-up - such as Darshan Singh Bhuller, Andrew Robinson and Isabel Tamen - still lead the 11-strong company. But they are almost matched in number by a clutch of recently recruited youngsters. And, despite the notable talent exhibited by newcomers like Rachel Salt, Angela Towler and Ben Ash, the overriding impression is of a company tied to some graduate employment scheme.

Initially, you're apt to attribute the mildness infecting both Rainbow Bandit and Sometimes I Wonder to the dancers' over-tentative handling of Alston's choreography. Nearly all of Rainbow Bandit - a work of double- distilled movement, intensified by its two parts silence and one part rhythmic text (Charles Amirkhanian's 1972 JUST) accompaniment - suffered badly from the conscientious student syndrome. Curiously, this seemed to afflict even the old-timers - with the exception of Andrew Robinson who, in his series of rapid, darting leaps and runs, eloquently illustrated the choreography's patterns of systematic propulsion and retroaction.

Elsewhere, there was little of the spontaneity and verve that made Rainbow Bandit such a bracing, stimulating dance experience back in 1977 in Alston's original creation for LCDT. Ben Ash, a dreadlocked, interestingly soft- centred dancer with an acute awareness of line, was well cast in a solo in which gentle, slumbering positions contrast with upright, angular asymmetry. Of the women, Salt and Towler managed to bring an occasion sparkle to the work's tight-knit yet diffuse phrasing. While Rainbow Bandit can accommodate a sense of quiet, internalised concentration, it also depends on a good deal of explosive attack. Perhaps these dancers just need time to discover the right balance of qualities in order to make the work look less like an exercise in cryonic suspension under a warm orange glow.

Alston's new piece, Sometimes I Wonder is a response to Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust. Set to 10 versions - of the more than 1,300 that exist - of this classic song of the 1920s, the dance reflects the jazz-inflected mood of Alston's selections of sung and orchestral recordings: Ella Fitzgerald (twice), Sarah Vaughan, Artie Shaw etc.

Again there is a tendency to soporific meandering which neither Alston nor the dancers seem able to escape. Because the piece is at least two songs too long, it runs out of steam. Alston's sophisticated musicality is evident in some inspired touches - layered rhythms, syncopated steps - but the dance is too polite for its own good, and only Henri Oguike's performance is juicy enough to stop you drifting.

n At Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 8-11 November (booking: 01203 524524). Then touring to Newcastle Playhouse; Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester; Horsham Arts Centre and Wyvern Theatre, Swindon