The first time I saw Richard Alston's company was back in 1998 and I asked a Brazilian classmate after the performance what he thought. He said with a grimace "it's ballet dressed up as contemporary dance".
I never really concluded for myself whether I agreed (and if so, whether I would consider it a negative or a positive thing). But seeing RADC again at Sadlers Wells on March 29th got me thinking about the Alston style.
The company - fabulous dancers all of them - presents a typical three piece evening, but for this performance one of the pieces is About-Face, RADC's first comissioned work by Martin Lawrance. The subtle differences between his work and Richard's are quite illuminating..
What I felt yesterday was that Alstonesque style is pre-occupied with lines, clarity and big statements. The overall impression I come away with is of something slightly "stiff". Martin Lawrance goes with the Alstonesque yet adds a dimension of detail that makes the piece appear softer. It has a sense of fluid calm that reminds me of Charles Linehan's work. That atmosphere and detail is something I really seek when watching dance. Add a few gorgeous lifts and duets, and Martin's piece is one of the most beautiful and inspirational things I've seen for a long time.
Richard's final piece in the programme, set to ragtime piano, was a bit different: "Alston goes casual" mixing styles and moods in ways I found really funny and enjoyable. To me that work had a greater sense of details than the more "classic Alston". It was aptly named too, Devil in the details suggests that perhaps it's not only my eye that sees less attention to detail in his typical work..
After the show, after trying to think through this I was sort of doubtful of my own words: am I really, after all is said and done, accusing Richard Alston himself of lacking attention to detail?? The artistic director of The Place? The revered choreographer famous for his musicality and rhythm? Can't be...
I don't know. Well, I know what I'm trying to say but not how to say it. Words aren't terribly precise tools for analysing dance. The above crude statements about scale, stiffness and details is probably the closest I get to explaining my impressions, even if it is so crude and generalised it's unfair to the actual range of Richard's style. I'm not trying to be fair, just trying to work out where my overall impression of the three pieces stems from, take it or leave it.
[Update: slightly edited, hopefully clarified June 1st 2006]