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:

Black Men Walking – Traverse Theatre

Writer: Testament

Director: Dawn Walton

Every breath of the landscape in this country echoes the lives of thousands across history. Beneath the soil, the lives of the rich, poor, women, men, Romans and black men and women lay forgotten to but a few. On the first Saturday, of every month, Matthew, Richard and Thomas walk these peaks – through two thousand years of history to find themselves, disconnect from technology, and in Thomas’ case – to reconnect with the past.

Profoundly lyrical, this first-time production for Revolution Mix is written by Testament, woven with intense word-play and tremendously honest humour. Without strong-arming, everything feels quite natural in the rhythmic chats between the characters. Testament’s piece perfectly emulates the desired effect of blending periods – to merge generational discussions; Alyeesha’s confusion over Thomas’ obsession with the past contrast with his disbelief in her lack of interest in her cultural history.

Maintaining a respectful nature – Black Men Walking also allows itself a brief insight into masculinity, in a rejuvenating light, tying the aspect of men returning to the land with the shadows of black men who performed in the courts of Henry the VII, were millers for the Romans, all while lampooning of the same concept of grown men’s boys clubs.

Delightfully charismatic, the titular men (as well as one straggler) perform their roles sincerely, drawing us in. Even with the dreary weather – you would have little question in enjoying a stroll with these people. Ben Onwukwe’s Thomas is a stoic role, a suggestion of fragility which evolves to us rather than slapping our faces – gradually building a rapport with Ayeesha, a young rapper who is perplexed by the men’s apparent ‘pleasure’ in walking.

As we wander through centuries of Black history on these Isles, Dorcas Sebuyange lowers a barrier of truth, though one we are all ashamedly aware. That some still find an unjustly perverse ‘right’ in determining whose home this is. Her injections accentuate the lyrical quality, showing a progression from mantra-like chants of before, into a new communication of rap, poetry and spoken word.

It is Trekkie-fan Tonderai Munyevu’s Richard, who is given the funnier lines, delivering them with conviction. An odd script, the jokes are borderline predictable but fit, especially when playing off of the home-stresses of Patrick Regis’s Matthew, whose body language flips when portraying the passive, phone obsessive father of two.

Complimenting the spoken word, Dawn Walton’s movement direction reinforces a spiritual aspect of history, bringing gravity in the repetitious ceremonies of these men’s monthly walks. Incorporating Simon Kenny’s design, an opaque barrier is put up at the back of the stage, serving as transitional cover for performers – or distorting space, entrapping characters in gorges or allowing for an unforeseen paranormal force.

And while the men may convey a sense of steady movement, there’s a loss of scale in Kenny’s design – a charming build, capturing the feel of the landscape, enriching colours with an awoken earth backdrop, but fails to reinforce the unforgiving landscape.

Tempest’s script is touching, without relying on exaggeration or melodrama. It relies on the, perhaps, unknown knowledge of the black men who built Britain, that there is a history buried beneath us, found in the milestones which have been denied or forgotten. It’s the sort of production you wish everyone could see, opening a dialogue away from ignorance through calming, story-driven theatre.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Freedom Fields – The Filmhouse

Writer, Director and Cinematography by Naziha Arebi

Libya/UK Run Time: 97 Mins

The beautiful game. For oh so many of us, it’s a lifelong love. A trip to the pub with some friends, or maybe even a casual end of evening catch-up. Even for non-fans, it’s extensive reach makes us all fans for global events. Freedom Fields, a documentary by director and cinematographer Naziha Arebi looks for people we have never met, where football symbolises something inherently different.

As you read, the FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup is underway. Experiencing a higher viewership and receiving a coverage worthy of its athletes. Across the nation, many are joining together to support a sisterhood of the players. In Libya, this echoes closer, going far beyond a professional level. For these women, this time on the sparse patches of grass is a breathing space, a freedom from the war, bullets and slog of their day to day endurance.

Arebi’s piece is told in three parts, adding a base three-act structure to the documentary, helping pace the film. To begin, we have hope. Hope that following the Libyan Civil War of 2011 and the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya would achieve a renewed moral axis. That a Western influence of democracy, gender equality and freedom would occur. We follow a group of women, as Arebi documents their lives, both on and off the pitch. For over a decade they have been Libya’s only national team of female footballers. They have, however, never been authorised to play a match.

The second and third acts follow the course of the next four years as we come to discover the cracks in this hope, failures of the government and backlash of religious bodies against the women. Some of the finer, more subtle editing occurs in these parts. As the streets of Libya whizz by, the glints of rhinestone and wedding dresses are repeated. Reminders to the expectations that many of these women face, as they say; ‘we are born to marry’.

An impressive backlog of suffering is kept at arm’s length from the camera to irregular effect. It makes for intense drama, snapping our attention, but conceals background pain we are aware of. Arebi’s cinematography is superb, the vivid colours of optimism, vastly contrast the sudden plunges into maddening darkness as Militia cut the electricity. Knowing precisely where to draw our attention, but we want to get to know these women more intimately. Never receiving a face to face interaction or interview makes for authenticity but neglects insight into a region which many audience members won’t fully comprehend.

What little atrocities we do focus on are handled tastefully, especially in terms of sound design. Giovanni Buccomino’s construct for the film is fitting, with North African themes throughout, including heavy reliance on Anasheed religious singing. As one woman attempts to make her way into Tunisia, the camera cuts. We hear implications of threats, requesting to talk with her male guardian. The dread lingers as we know she has none. Tastefully, the backing score fades, silence is thus utilised with enormous respect to heighten the tension.

The climax is not a grand victory for the team, nor is it the calming of Libya’s climate. Arebi captures the looks on the young girl’s faces as they see a training ground, run by the past players of Fadwa’s 11. Doctors, Accountants and mothers now help to educate and train a generation of players, medics and hopeful presidents. Freedom Fields is an intimate documentary, focusing on these women and their fight to be recognised amidst oppression. It looks for sisterhood, equality but far more importantly – future.

Review originally published for The Wee Review:

Film availblae for purchase and still showing in limited screenings: