Review: Richard Alston Dance Says Adieu in (Quiet) Character

Review: Richard Alston Dance Says Adieu in (Quiet) Character


MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Another long-established choreographer, forced to shut down his company because of shifts in funding, might have made an angry work, or an I’ll-show-them display of choreographic fireworks. But “Shine On,” the final piece that Richard Alston made for his namesake troupe, is no tempest. It’s well-mannered, faithful to its music, beautifully constructed and emotionally subdued: a quiet statement of old-fashioned artistic values.

And that’s the thrust of the whole program here at Peak Performances. The last hurrah of the Richard Alston Dance Company, an institution founded in 1994 that has lost its principal source of financing, will come in March in its hometown, London. But this run in Montclair is its final United States appearance. In saying adieu, it stays in character.

All four pieces on the program are new or recent, but none are newfangled. “Voices and Light Footsteps,” set to Monteverdi madrigals and sinfonias, immediately establishes Alstonian virtues. Gorgeous music is allied with luxuriant dancing, close to barefoot ballet: luminous lines, deep bends, a fullness flowing through extremities and soft phrase endings.

“Voices” also establishes some limitations. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. No jarring novelty, but no surprising invention, either. The Orpheus and Eurydice myth, so deep with associations in dance history, is invoked only to be turned away from. Music is master, but while Mr. Alston’s choreography is expertly stitched to the score, drawing out its detail, the dance doesn’t have the strange, revelatory rightness of the most musical choreographers (George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris). It doesn’t make you hear with new eyes.

It’s good that “Voices” is followed by “Detour,” an aptly named piece by the company’s associate choreographer, Martin Lawrance. The music, by Akira Miyoshi and Michael Gordon, is more urgent — tremolos on marimba, mysterious and thunderous — and the choreography is more agitated: an exchange of whiplash duets and trios like excited molecules.

It’s good, too, that the program concludes with Mr. Alston’s “Brahms Hungarian.” The familiar music, played live and robustly by the pianist Jason Ridgway, is as irresistible as popcorn, and the choreography is nearly as tasty: salted with folk touches, crisp with brilliant step sequences. Mr. Alston’s superb dancers shine especially brightly here, in particular Monique Jonas, whose panache transcends clichés of Hungarian spice.

“Shine On” is more muted. The music is Benjamin Britten’s early song cycle “On This Island,” with text by Auden, played with sensitivity by Mr. Ridgway and sung vividly by Gelsey Bell. To present such rare and wonderful music as a parting gift is typical of Mr. Alston. If it’s also typical that the choreography doesn’t quite equal Britten’s mystery or Auden’s barbed wit, it still has a poignant glow.

“The dancers will indeed shine on,” Mr. Alston writes in a program note. “I have a serious need to believe that my work might too.” Imagine that tone translated into dance, and you have a sense of this civilized farewell.

Richard Alston Dance Company

Through Sunday at Peak Performances, Montclair, N.J.; peakperfs.org.



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