Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Dance Review: Richard Alston, Smooth Moves and Recklessness

Richard-Alston-4 Richard Alston’s newest season at the Joyce is a surprising medley of three works, blending disparate styles into one evening of stirring dance.

Alston, a British choreographer, begins the program with Shuffle it Right from 2008- a very American dance for an American audience. Featuring the early jazz music of Hoagy Carmichael, Alston’s dancers glide and jive through accentuated low turns with bent wrists, floating along then breaking down with little hops- much like a child who can’t conceal his excitement. Alston’s men are made to dance in white pants, shirts, and socks; as they swoop through lunges, they seem even more "cool" and, as they execute Alston’s demanding and precise choreography, one can’t help but applaud their negotiation of such slippery business. The women are in full-skirted dresses with colorful patterns on white backgrounds; immediately one notices their long legs and uniformly well-pointed feet.  Alston’s company is obviously well-trained and dances together beautifully, however, Alston seems to rely rather too heavily on unison.  When he does mix things up, the effect is of a kaleidoscope suddenly shifting, but then, there they are, altogether again.

Real Friends 336Following with Movements from Petrushka, Alston loses much of the sophistication he has built in the opening work. This piece, about the parallels between Nijinsky and the famously tortured role he created, pits a solo male dancer against a crowd of Russian revelers. They dance with feet flexed, he writhes in growing agony, clutching his head and waving his arms in speedy circles. He is eventually set upon by the crowd which he repels and pushes to the floor. The work ends with our hero silhouetted against a bright blue backdrop, one hand to his head and the other outstretched.  I very much enjoyed the stage design by Liz Reed who sourced the marvelously creepy images that serve as backdrop from the original Diaghilev production a century ago.

To end, the company presents Blow Over, also from 2008, set to music by Philip Glass.  In by far the most exciting piece of the evening, Alston shows remarkable stylistic variety, creating movement phrases where his dancers are asked to loose the understated sophistication of Shuffle and replace it with an energetic abandonment and flinging of limbs.  Growing from the plodding chorus of "Open the Kingdom" to the whirling duet of "Changing Opinions," Alston and his dancers find freedom to Glass’ pulsing score and haunting pop lyrics.  At one point Alston returns to a preferred grouping of two quartets, one male, one female. The women throw themselves to the floor in splits as the men run and arch backwards in passé. At times like these, his dancers achieve a wonderful recklessness, but too often he staunches it before it can really become ecstatic. It seems that if he could just turn it up a notch all over, he would have had a fantastic piece.

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Official Dance Review by Meghan Frederick
Performance: Richard Alston Dance Company
Choreography:  Richard Alston
Venue:  The Joyce Theater
Show Date:  January 15, 2010

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