Dance: A careful ripple of a storm

Richard Alston Dance Company Queen Elizabeth Hall South Bank Centre London
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Indy Lifestyle Online
RICHARD ALSTON is a choreographer's choreographer. He creates a plotless fabric of dance, with consummately crafted movement that dips and weaves on the energy of the music and sections the air with bold curves and lines. His facility is like an engine, chugging out an inexhaustible variety of images. Yet within this enormous range, the contrasts and modulations are understated, filtered through the stylisation of his language. An emotional storm for Richard Alston is, for me, a careful ripple.

Slow Airs Almost All of Them is his new piece for the Richard Alston Dance Company. Using Mozart's Six Adagios and Fugues for String Trio (played by the group stingfactory on stage), he considers the adagios to be the heart of the music. These allow him to deploy his predilection for fluently lyrical duets, and the final one exemplifies his smooth manipulation of slotting shapes, closing with a duplicate pose of one body identically folded over the other. But Alston's writing to the fugues (which Mozart derived from Bach) also has a graphic freshness, so that when he brings on the cast's four women he shows them as a tight, unexpected frieze, their backs turned to the audience. Cleverly he choreographs overlaps, causing the dance to continue in the silences between the musical passages. The surprise effect of this jolts you into seeing the movement even more acutely.

The musical delight of live players and singers continues with the rest of the programme. Alston's 1994 Movements from Petrushka takes Stravinsky's piano arrangement of his original ballet score and, for the first time in London, puts the piano centre stage. Richard Casey's 10 fingers are enough to cope, the dancers circle round him and Christopher Tudor leaps and rolls, an echo of Fokine's tragic puppet. But what really makes the piece? The music or the movement? The performing style, too soft-edged for the jagged rhythms, weakens the choreography's impact.

The dancers' deliberately gentle outlines, avoiding muscular tension, look right in last year's Waltzes in Disorder, to Brahms's song cycle, Liebeslieder-Walzer. Christopher Tudor breaks away from his relationship with a woman for the freedom symbolised by Martin Lawrence's man-bird. The threading-through of a theme helps the piece avoid the sense of prolixity which can sometimes blight Alston's pieces.

Watching an Alston programme I find myself redoubling my admiration for him, but as the evening progresses he offers me diminishing returns. Perhaps it is because he articulates his choreographic contrasts with such restraint, perhaps because the pacing is so smooth and language so tastefully beautiful. I know I am watching different things, but it all tends to feel the same.

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