United Kingdom, Britten, Liszt, Shukar Collective, Wolfe, Richard Alston Dance Company – 20th Anniversary Performances: Richard Alston Dance Company, Sadler’s Wells, London, 26.1.2015 (J.O’D)
Rejoice in the Lamb
Dancers: Nicholas Bodych (Christopher Smart), Ihsaan de Banya (Jeoffry), Elly Braund, Phoebe Hart, Jennifer Hayes, Nancy Nerantzi, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Simon Donnellon, James Muller, Liam Riddick
Choir: Montclair State University Vocal Accord: Soprano – Angel Baker, Katie Carey, Nicole Jodoin, Karen Levandoski (Soprano Soloist), Christine Rauschenbach, Claire Tsiporukha; Alto – Lisa Andreacchi, Lauren D’Imperio, CJ Harden, Christina McCall, Allison Mello, Elaine Thoman (Alto Soloist); Tenor – Ford Foster, Zachery Morehouse, Ngqibeko Peter Ncanywa, Timothy Price, Joseph Schnorrbusch (Tenor Soloist), Terrence Thornhill; Bass – Gabriel Baseman, Stefon Gaines, Aaron Kurtz, John McLean (Bass Soloist), Jamey Vavra, Jason Zacher
Organ: Vincent Carr
Choral Director: Heather J. Buchanan
Choreography: Richard Alston
Music: Benjamin Britten, Rejoice in the Lamb (1943)
Dancers: Liam Riddick (Liszt), Marie (Nancy Nerantzi), Elly Braund, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Jennifer Hayes, Phoebe Hart, Nicholas Bodych, Ihsaan de Banya
Pianist: Amit Yahev
Choreography: Martin Lawrance
Music: Franz Liszt, Dante Sonata (1849)
Dancers: Ihsaan de Banya, Nicholas Bodych, Ajani Johnson-Goffe, James Muller, Liam Riddick, Simon Donnellon, Elly Braund, Jennifer Hayes, Nancy Nerantzi, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Phoebe Hart
Choreography: Richard Alston and Ajani Johnson-Goffe
Music: Shukar Collective, tracks from Urban Gypsy (2005)
Dancers: Lick Ihsaan de Banya, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Wayne Parsons, Elly Braund, Nicholas Bodych, Jennifer Hayes, Simon Donellon; Believing Liam Riddick, Nancy Nerantzi
Musicians: Icebreaker: Christian Forshaw (sax and clarinet), Dominic Saunders (piano), Audrey Riley (cello), Dan Gresson (percussion), James Woodrow (guitar), Roger Linley (double bass)
Choreography: Martin Lawrance
Music: Julia Wolfe, Lick (1994); Believing (1997)
Lighting Design: Zeynep Kepekli
Costume Design: Peter Todd
When Ihsaan de Banya struck the final pose in Martin Lawrance’s Madcap (the last work of the evening) it seemed as if a very long time and a great deal of movement had passed since he first appeared on the stage with the other dancers of the Richard Alston Dance Company to celebrate its twenty year existence. For the four-work programme is long, and although it includes pieces by three choreographers that are differently-lit, differently-costumed and set against different backgrounds, a lot of the movement does seem very similar and too lavishly applied.
This is not true of the solos and the duets (especially when danced by Nancy Nerantzi, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Nicholas Bodych and Liam Riddick), or when it involves up to four or five dancers. When it is performed by the whole company, though, you can feel, about movement, what Emperor Joseph II felt about musical notes on first hearing The Marriage of Figaro: ‘-too many notes, Mozart.’
This may be because the anniversary programme of the company that bears his name includes only one work choreographed by Richard Alston alone. Two of the other three are by Lawrance, the company’s Associate Choreographer and Rehearsal Director. The third is by Alston and Ajani Johnson-Goffe, a ‘young hip hop and contemporary choreographer/performer’. The Alston work, which starts the programme, is Rejoice in the Lamb (2014) performed to Benjamin Britten’s setting to music of words by the eighteenth-century poet, Christopher Smart. Standing backstage behind the dancers are the singers of the Montclair State University Vocal Accord.
The piece starts in a strikingly beautiful way. Several figures lie, half-lit, in a circle, the costumes of some of them the colour of rose petals. Outside of this circle is Nicholas Bodych as the poet. On the words ‘breath of life’ from the singers, the figures sit up. According to the poet’s biography on the Poetry Foundation website, when admitted to the ‘curable ward’ of St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London, Smart took exercise by digging in the garden (‘…the Lord succeed my pink borders,’ he wrote).
Softness of colour, softness of light, softness of movement, Rejoice in the Lamb has all three. In breeches and a soft, full shirt, with bare feet and calves, Bodych extends his legs, back and arms fluidly from the waist. His body does not perform high jumps or pirouettes. It balances. It is a male body that expresses, rather than acts. Given Richard Alston’s period of training at the Merce Cunningham Studio, it may also be a body that exists in the isolation of the dancers in Cunningham’s work. The other dancers go from being flowers to people (in the case of Ihsaan de Banya to Smart’s cat, Jeoffry). They are people by whom Smart is mostly rejected. By the end of the piece the dancers have become flowers again. This time, though, Bodych lies down in their midst.
The troubled sounds of Franz Liszt’s Dante Sonata (performed on stage by Amit Yahav) seemed to be more resonant for the Sadler’s Wells audience, in Martin Lawrance’s Burning (2014), than the music of Benjamin Britten and the words of a poet for whom ‘every creature worships God simply by being itself,…’. Liam Riddick (Liszt) is as fluid as Nicholas Bodych, but his movements, which are more contained, have a sharper edge. With the same musicality she showed in Alston’s Lachrymae at the Barbican in 2013, Nancy Nerantzi (the young, married Countess Marie D’Agoult) seems to cut her movement from the air. The colours here are blue and red and black (white for Riddick’s shirt); bodies curve in on themselves to reflect conflict and passion. Lawrence also includes moments of stillness that the remaining two works in the programme lack. Burning may run out of choreographic ideas before the music stops, but it ends on a powerful note of separation to which the audience clearly responded.
Nomadic (2015), the work co-choreographed by Richard Alston and Ajani Johnson-Goffe, gives its dancers a new kind of movement (and one for which it dresses the women and the men in the same, soft trousers). The presence in the piece of Ajani Johnson-Goffe also introduces a harder, ‘street dancing’, body to the stage. The Richard Alston Dance Company dances, as it were, against type (and also, perhaps, as it may dance in the future). But Nomadic, the only work of the four to be performed to recorded music, works best when Johnson-Goffe and the four dancers listed above give it life. It does, at least once, arrange all the dancers in an interestingly placed group. The ending is sudden and surprising. The piece was loudly cheered from the Sadler’s Wells Second Circle.
Martin Lawrance’s Madcap (2012) starts with Ihsaan de Banya dancing on all fours. It also contains a solo, danced to silence, by Liam Riddick. It is performed on a shiny floor of white or black. The stage has been extended backwards to give the dancers more space. Musicians are playing in the pit. The dancers are wearing costumes of purple, black and grey. By now, though, I had seen too much of the Richard Alston Dance Company (lovely dancers though many of them are) entering the stage, moving about on it, then leaving. I think of T.S.Eliot, even though I may not quite understand what he means when he says: ‘Except for the point, the still point,/There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.’