Richard Alston Company, Sadler's Wells, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Richard Alston, one of Britain's senior choreographers, is presenting an all-new programme this season. The dances, by Alston and dancer Martin Lawrance, show off the company's fluency and rhythm, its gentle lyricism, and its quiet.

This isn't a company that goes in for showbiz. Dancers and choreography are graceful and clear, but they don't push themselves over the footlights. Alston's company can look politely contained. At its best, though, its virtues communicate themselves without effort: the musical response, the pleasure in movement, flow gently from the stage.

Volumina is danced to a recording of Ligeti organ music, the instrument producing thunderous groans, shrieks and dying gasps. Alston, a choreographer whose works are shaped and driven by their music, often cuts across Ligeti's lines. Complex danced solos are built up against a single moaning note, poses held still over the clatter of keys. The dancers have clean lines, and there's a slicing precision to swung limbs. Peter Todd dresses them in unflattering textured costumes, like scrunched-up tissue paper.

The piece takes off until its central section, a duet for Jonathan Goddard and Martin Lawrance. Alston's phrases lengthen here, with long lines of movement stretching over Ligeti's whispers. The dancers bend over each other, or stretch away. The look of containment becomes taut poise.

Lawrance, who has danced with Alston since 1995, has recently begun making dances for the company. He's a choreographer in Alston's own mode, with flowing steps, attention to music, and sometimes the same touch of politeness. The world premiere of About-Face, danced to baroque string music by Marin Marais, shows a new confidence. A slow solo for Jonathan Goddard is sculpturally clear.

The pianist Jason Ridgway plays on stage for Alston's The Devil in the Detail, a closing number to Scott Joplin rags. Francesca Romo springs through an opening number with witty abandon, dallying with the music as she turns and scampers. The Devil in the Detail is sometimes fizzing, sometimes flat. Alston can look too respectable for ragtime, neat rather than raffish. His "romantic" duet, well danced by Lawrance and Sonja Peedo, looks utterly conventional.

Alston takes off with a gorgeous male duet. Goddard and Luke Baio partner each other, move in unison, peel off into separate dances. They move with a freshness that suggests men caught up by the rhythm. Goddard, snapping his feet through flickering, intricate steps, is both a contrast and an answer to Baio, who swoops and dips beside him. As they dart and spring, Baio and Goddard slip between affection, challenge and flirtation, giving the dance an unpredictable, irresistible sparkle.

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