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Richard Alston Dance Company - Brisk Singing, Shimmer, Overdrive

by Robert Abrams
May 16, 2004
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

Richard Alston Dance Company - Brisk Singing, Shimmer, Overdrive

Artistic Director: Richard Alston, CBE
Dancers: Luke Baio, Jonathan Goddard, Omar Gordon, Dam Huynh, Martin Lawrance, Harriet Macauley, Maria Nikoloulea, Margaria Zafrilla Olayo, Sonja Peedo, Ino Riga, Francesca Romo

www.theplace.org.uk

presented at
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
www.joyce.org

Robert Abrams
May 16, 2004

Brisk Singing

This was a bright, abstract work danced barefoot set to classical music. The dancers were rhythmically attentive.

Sections of the work performed in bright light alternated with sections performed in lighting that resembed a dark, but sun-dappled forest. The work used varied levels, with both leaping and floor work. Brisk Singing is a modern dance, but has the stately formalism of a court dance: one of those vintage dances where the dancers move in and out of groups and always wave or curtsey on entering or exiting a pattern. The dancing was very lyrical. The energy of the dance modulated up at the end with a section marked by much heel tamping (i.e. somewhere between a tap and a stamp). The style of the work reminded me a little of Paul Taylor's choreography, and generally compared favorably in design and execution to Mr. Taylor's work.

The work was very pretty and was well danced in all of its sections. It may have been a tad long though.

Music: Jean-Philippe Rameau from Les Boréades
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Costume: Jeanne Spaziani
Dancers: The Company

Shimmer

This dance featured striking costumes in various colors that were drenched in Swarovski crystals. The costumes featured spider web patterns that were similar for both men and women. Some of the women's outfits had string skirts and others did not. The costumes were designed to give the impression that they were revealing the dancers' nude bodies underneath, although in fact they did not because the dancers' wore skin toned leotards under the costumes.

I liked the idea of the costumes. I am a ballroom guy at heart even if I am mostly a Westie these days, so any costume with an excessive amount of sparkles on it is likely to find favor. Nonetheless, I thought that the implementation of the idea was flawed. All of the costumes were a little short, and this fit especially poorly on the men. The costumes were not indecent per se, but they were just short enough that it looked like an error or a costume malfunction. I thought it would have been better to dress the men in matching pants. This was a problem because the costumes distracted from the dancing, which was quite good. The costumes made the dance look like it was about the dancers' rear ends. Don't get me wrong, if I were forced to evaluate the dancers' rear ends, I would have no choice but to state that they were top quality (even in a dance context where talking about people's bodies is normal, evaluating someone's rear end is going to be taken the wrong way by someone, which is why it is stated as a hypothetical here, and should under no circumstances be understood as an actual evaluation of any actual rear ends). The dancing was top quality and anything that distracts from seeing that quality is a concern.

Fortunately, the costume problem can be solved. I would recommend that the costumes be reworked to either be longer or shorter. Also, I don't see the value of putting the men in costumes that make them look like they are wearing skirts (sort of), unless it is clear that a statement is being made, either as social commentary or from a design perspective. At least in Herman Schmerman you know that they are trying to make a statement, but in Shimmer it isn't so clear if that is the intent. I also think this problem is an example of a pattern of design also found in Ballroom, especially the competitive variety, where the design of the woman's costume takes the costume design in a direction that may work, sort of, as a pair, but which is problematic for the man's outfit when viewed by itself.

If you can get beyond the costumes, whether you like them or not, you would see that the dancers' port de bra is consistently elegant and flowing. This was true in Brisk Singing as well. As in Brisk Singing, they danced barefoot. The first pair of dancers performed slow and intimate transitions from one posture to another. In fact, the work was filled with many dancers holding nice stretched poses. While the dancing was often slow in nature, in other sections the dancers showed energy.

The work was notable for having a grand piano on stage that was played live, and played well. All in all, I liked the work.

Music: Maurice Ravel, Movements from Sonatine and Miroirs
Pianist: Jason Ridgway
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Costumes: Julien Macdonald
Dancers: The Company


Richard Alston Dance Company in Shimmer
Photo courtesy of Chris Nash

Overdrive

While I liked Brisk Singing and Shimmer, I loved Overdrive. At the end, the audience seemed to like this work the best of the three too.

The set was simple, framed by a glowing light on the edge of the stage. Men entered dressed in gray sweats dancing to fast electronic music. Their motions were also fast, matching the music. Their arms may have been slightly straighter than in the first two works, but other wise their port de bra had the same character. Again, the dancers were rhythmically attentive (meaning that the dancers work with the rhythms found in the music, even though the music was mostly melodic without an obvious percussion section, even though it was contemporary).

Three women entered the stage in red outfits. They attacked the choreography with gusto. The entire ensemble was very solid. Their motion and stillness was sharply performed similar to high end Latin dancers. Another three female dancers were dressed in costumes similar to the men's, but their tops were red fading into the grey of their pants.

In the interests of offering spurious suggestions that really aren't necessary, but might be really cool, Mr. Alston should try performing Overdrive where the movements of the dancers would trigger changes in the lighting in real time. Somebody should give him a grant to see if it would work.

As performed, Overdrive is a great work. It may be long, but it never feels long. The concept of the work never distracts from the dancing. In the partnership sections, the dancers were responsive to each other. The music and the dancing was not Hustle, but I got the sense that it might resonate with people who are sensitive to Hustle's tempi and rhythms.

Overdrive does not have the kind of precise progression of Bolero, but it was continually engaging. The dancers looked happy to be dancing.

Music: Terry Riley, Keyboard Study #1
Realised by: Steffen Schleiermacher
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Costumes: Jeanne Spaziani
Dancers: The Company

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