Richard Alston Dance Company Festival Theatre

This year is the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and, as Richard Alston has “always had a passion for Britten’s music”, it is no surprise to see two of the four pieces on the programme feature his music – the previously performed Lachrymae and Illuminations. In fact, it should have been three of the four pieces but a new work, Holderlin Fragments, has been dropped from the first couple of dates of the tour until such time as the newer dancers in the company have had enough time to rehearse it and do it justice. Instead, the programme is completed by another two previously performed works – Brink and The Devil in the Detail. No new works for us tonight then, but a fresh look at a varied selection of older works. As Alston himself says, “I love working on earlier pieces because…I feel I know more now, I like being able to dig deeper and get some new life. We don’t just reproduce what was there before”.

Lachrymae features piano and violin on stage and the music is melancholy and haunting. The stage is dark and bare, there is nothing to distract us from the dancers and their interpretation of the music. The choreography is a perfect fit, conveying the tenderness and poignancy of the original poem on which Britten’s music is based, John Dowland’s “If My Complaints Could Passions Move”. The costumes had an oriental look which I didn’t think quite worked with the piece and didn’t show off the dancers’ bodies or movements to their full advantage. There was also a wardrobe malfunction later in the performance when one of the dancers got tangled up in her top but she managed to extricate herself beautifully without revealing all.

The second piece, Brink, is set to Japanese composer Ayuo’s Eurasian Tango. The pace is more energetic and lively and the three couples twist and turn to the rhythm. This isn’t the tango familiar to the Strictly Come Dancing audience but it is certainly as entertaining.

The third piece, Illuminations, was my personal favourite. It tells the story of the love affair between the young French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, and his older lover, the poet Paul Verlaine. It is full of passion and intensity and the two male leads are excellent.

And finally there is The Devil in the Detail, a much more light hearted piece set to the music of Scott Joplin and played expertly on stage by pianist Jason Ridgeway. I wasn’t the only patron to be humming the familiar strain of The Entertainer on the way home. All in all, another evening of high quality dance from a deservedly very popular company.

Irene Brownlee