Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

five stars

As of next March, the Richard Alston Dance Company will cease to exist. Implacable funding cuts have imposed what is a cruel loss to contemporary dance fans all across the UK and beyond. Twenty years of this outstanding company building strong ties with Edinburgh ended at the weekend, with hovering melancholy resolutely defied by two premieres, a welcome reprise of two existing Alston choreographies and a lively curtain-raiser by youth group Evolution Dance (Inverurie).

A Far Cry, the new piece by the company’s Associate Choreographer, Martin Lawrance, took his talent for fast, deftly detailed movement in a sparky new direction: he set steps not to his usual modern soundscores but to Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro. Wow! a fizzing stream of solos, duets and ensembles took flight on the sumptuous surges of Elgar’s music, the colour-banding on costumes - echoed in the lighting and on the back wall - hinting at changes in nature and in relationships. Alston’s own new piece, Voices and Light Footsteps, was a delicious, buoyant response to one of his favourite composers, Monteverdi.

Two cunningly nuanced duets referenced the mythic love and loss in Orfeo while elsewhere the dancers took the depths of vocal harmonies, or the bright percussive rhythms into their own limbs. Arms opened out in a joyous embrace of Monteverdi’s innovative music-making, bodies curved and stretched and connected in a choreography that answered the textures and moods of the music with a celebratory, intuitive elan. Can Alston really be 70? This was a dance full of youthful vigour.

The same could be said of pianist Jason Ridgway’s playing for Brahms Hungarian and Mazur, where the witty flourishes of folk dance in Alston’s choreography were matched by Ridgway’s light-fingered panache. Mazur, meanwhile, has acquired a resonant muscularity in the brotherhood of memories forged by dancers Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis. We now have final memories to cherish - and hopes that Alston will find other outlets for his gifts.