Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition – Festival Theatre

Choreography by Richard Alston

Associate choreography and restaging by Martin Lawrence

With a repertoire spanning back into the early nineties, Richard Alston Dance Company has taken the medium to tremendously respectable heights. In the face of divided funding, Alston’s company delivers one final performance in Edinburgh. We can only begin to thank the company for their time, talent and dedication to their craft – wishing nothing but hope for future endeavours.

Opening, James Muller offers a guest spot to revisit the past – while highlighting the future of dance through these young performers. With a distinctly complex piece, chosen of course by Alston, Prokofiev’s Toccata serves as a backdrop to Curtain Raiser: Evolution Dance. Testing the merits of these dancers, it is a methodically merciless piece in a quick pace, akin to the whip cracks of an old western from the Golden age of Hollywood. Big, bold and synchronised with precision, it echoes a prevalence of dance as spectacle, and while enhanced with music, lighting and costume, there is no gimmickry to hide behind.

From Stravinsky to Chopin, Electric Gypsyland to Joplin – no movement piece is complete without accomplished musical direction and composition. Luckily, Alston is privy to the exceptional talents of Johannes Brahms and pianist Jason Ridgway. Equally as gifted as any dancer, Ridgway is given pride of place on stage to further this evenings enjoyment. Bathing in the design of lighting set by Zeynep Kepeki, Charles Balfour or Lawrence, both Ridgway and dancers are cast in shades reminiscent of their respective dances tone.

Distinctly rooted in Ashkenazi tradition, Johannes Brahms’ musical composition, in arrangement with Alston’s choreography lifts the structure of Brahms Hungarian. With heavy gypsy influences, there are intense emotional shifts, notable in both composer and choreographers style, as bursts of acceleration suddenly halt. It’s a sublime piece with mischievous pacing, accentuated through Fotini Dimou’s costume, a quartet of almost seasonal gowns, floral, light but with splashes of colour to contrast the male dancers muted pinstripes.

Our finale brings an ethereal presence in closing out the company’s run. Comprising 10 individual movements set to the music of Monteverdi, how better to demonstrate versatility than with creations from a man who gave existence to a new art form? Holding their own, Joshua Harriette, Ellen Yilma and Nahum McLean take tremendous steps in ensuring this performance remain a fixture in fans of the company for years to come. Whether solo or group piece, their form is exquisite – drawing the eye with ease.

Tenderness to the final dance, Damigella Tutta Bella, the earliest piece of music Alston can remember. Embracing a circle, it’s a marvellous ending to behold, closing with something which sparked an origin.

A bitter-sweet idea to accept, all the grace, talent and wonder onstage before us is being seen for the final time in Edinburgh, or at least in its current incarnation. Alston’s close relationship with the Festival Theatre, a theatre dear to the hearts of many, aligns itself with the ideals of dance, theatre and arts for all.

In a utopian world, Richard Alston Dance Company would remain a fixture for years to come, as it is, their Final Edition is a closing act which pays tribute to movement’s evolution and a reminder that even though the Company may cease – Alston himself has little intentions of going anywhere, news we relish.

Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition continues to tour the UK: https://www.richardalstondance.com/

Ballet Black – The King’s Theatre

Founder and Artistic Director – Cassa Pancho

Choreographers – Martin Lawrence, Sophie Laplane and Mthuthuzeli November

Desgins – Yann Seabra and Peter Todd

Marking their 18th season in March, Ballet Black bring their world premiere to the UK. Now in Scotland, Edinburgh is honoured to play host to contemporary ballet performers with cutting edge dance forms married into tradition. A trio of pieces, each as staggeringly impressive as the last, serve to showcase the immeasurable talents of this troupe. From the combative piece Pendulum to the glorious colours in Click, closing with the downright hauntingly gorgeous Ingoma.

Dance conjures emotion. Emotion fuels dance. The two are inseparable in productions of movement. Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrence finds dancers Sayaka Ichikawa & Mthuthuzeki November gradually succumbing to a closeness which cuts through aggressive competition. There’s no accompanying score to start with. It’s jarring, but its intent is clear – focus on the movement and the athleticism of each muscular movement. These dancers create their own rhythm within one another, synchronising without a beat to rely on.

From the open scape of pale light, Click could not be more different, certainly standing as the most energetically colourful of the trio. It is a piece which openly blends multiple dance forms, highly creative in its designs by Yann Seabra and explores the multitude of ways we can interpret such a simple action. To click, can mean to hurry, to silence or of course, in time to the beat. Our five performers are led by Isabela Coracy, clad in a shade of yellow only she could pull off. Contrasting Pendulum, the troupe is dressed in vivid tones. They explode in vibrancy as the spotlights strike off these colours. Beginning with a group piece set to the medley of scores, we break off into separate performances. Coracy’s is exhilarating, disgustingly cooler than anything most of the room will ever accomplish. Jose Alves and Cira Robinson’s duet captures the intensity of movement. Set to a more serious tone by To Rococo Rot’s composition, the colours shift from light-hearted and fun to dark passion. In a blitz, we return to the rainbow spectrum, the clicks growing faster and flurries of feet flash amidst the fusing rainbow of lights – making for a terrific end to the first half.

It is Ingoma, however, which sets Ballet Black apart from the rest. We move from the straight medium of dance to one of pure storytelling. Choreographed by November, danseur of the first piece, it depicts the African Mine Worker’s Strike of 1946. The scene is laid before us, the gravel and coals spilled onto the stage as the company don hard hats and pickaxes. There is no rush with Ingoma, time is taken to build atmosphere, leading to a dramatic, drawn out payoff of sublime emotional beauty.

The sun beating on their backs, the Isicathulo techniques of heavy stomps, synchronise perfectly with the foreboding score. Ingoma tells the story, not only of a young miner who perishes but of those left behind, arguably the real point of the narrative. In terms of dance technique, this is human. The tie between pathos and movement is gorgeous. We see every muscle, flex and sharp pinpoint movement, as Ebony Thomas is illuminated by the gleam of the hardhats, before the dusty air envelopes him.

On occasion, dancers engage en pointe, a firm reminder of the tribute to the artforms core movements. Ichikawa’s performance transcends this beauty, adding the desperation of loss. The more she dances, the more physically exhausting the performance feels. Ballet usually makes us see the performers as neigh superhuman, holding poses and leaping in ways we cannot. Ichikawa strips this back, collapsing in the moment, she is lifted. For just like the workers, exhaustion is no excuse to stop. So she dances. Dances for the pain and for those still suffering on the sidelines.

Ballet, traditionally, has a glossy aesthetic. Primped and polished until it glows with pride. This contributes quite heavily to its image as a high-class artform, pushing its perceived accessibility away. Ballet Black, however, is raw movement of the utmost standard. Its polish comes from capable dancers, it’s aesthetic shifts from natural dusk to a blaze of colours in what is a remarkable evening, redefining the rules of ballet.

Images & Production Information: https://balletblack.co.uk/