Richard Alston Dance Company, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, review: Wonderful dancing, a quiet assurance and warmth

Zoë Anderson
Elly Braund and Liam Riddick in Richard Alston's 'Chacony'

Richard Alston is the opposite of a jazz-hands choreographer. This programme shows him in characteristic form: wonderful dancing, a quiet assurance and warmth. Sometimes I miss greater directness with Alston, who lets his audience come to him. If you do, there’s rich material here.

Alston’s new Chacony is a thoughtful response to tragedy, named for its two pieces of music. Henry Purcell’s 1680 piece is grand and elegant. Benjamin Britten’s, part of a 1945 string quartet, pays tribute to Purcell but also responds to his own experience, giving concerts with Yehudi Menuhin in recently liberated concentration camps. Alston uses these two pieces to show order broken and rethought.

In the Purcell, the ten dancers wear flowing red robes by Peter Todd. They stand in a curving line; even when they dart forward, moving with lively speed, there’s a sense of ceremony to the dancing. When they return for the Britten, dressed in pale greys, the dancing has much greater tension. Soloists peel off, twist and turn, dipping right down to the floor. Alston avoids explicit angst, but lets his dancers look more vulnerable, stripped of their formal certainties. When they line up again at the end, it suggests both recovery and how much has changed.

This programme opens with Glint, performed by students from the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. It’s a lovely piece, set to the bright rhythms of John Cage’s “Second Construction” and showing Alston’s delight in young talent with complex patterns and taut duets. In a fine cast, Salome Pressac stands out, a dancer of radiant poise and presence.

Martin Lawrance’s Tangent is a barefoot dance to classic tango music, stylishly played by pianist Jason Ridgway. Lawrence’s duets use the flavour of tango as much as its steps. Nancy Nerantzi moves with particular bite and speed, whirling around Nicholas Bodych. Oihana Vesga Bujan and Liam Riddick dance with handsome authority.

Gypsy Mixture is an older Alston favourite, created in 2004 to a selection of Roma music remixed by DJs and artists from Chile to Frankfurt. The dancing is full of leaps and hip shimmies, Alston’s dancers pouncing on rhythms and luxuriating in the musical phrasing.