Eirini Diamantouli appreciates the profound power of music and dance in Richard Alston’s masterful production, Quartermark.
Music has long been ingrained in the fabric of the Richard Alston Dance Company. Indeed, throughout Quartermark, a programme which showcases a selection of highlights from the company’s nearly twenty-five-year history, the dancers do not merely respond to their acoustic environment; more than this, the music inhabits the dancers’ bodies and informs their actions. Every dynamic fluctuation, rhythmic verve and melodic flourish speaks through the dancers’ masterfully articulated movements.
With a diverse and vibrant sonic language ranging from the surging and pulsing of solo percussion, the jarring dissonances of Steve Reich’s Proverb, to the lyricism of Ravel’s La Vallée de Cloches, and the sincerity and jest of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Quartermark entices and delights. The collaboration and cohesion of dance, music, lighting and costume design in this work aspires to a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, a total, all-embracing work of art; or indeed, a feast for the senses.
The first performance of the evening is Detour, choreographed by the company’s associate choreographer Martin Lawrence. It is set to two contrasting percussion pieces, one tuned and one non-tuned: Akira Miyoshi’s Ripple for Solo Marimba and Michael Gordon’s Timber, remixed by Jóhann Jóhannsson. Here, fluidity is contrasted to startling stillness, delicacy with rigidity, and unity with disconnection to create a profoundly dynamic impression. The piece requires of its dancers a strength and control which it dutifully receives. The audience is noticeably captivated by the fluency and pace with which the dancers navigate the stage and interact. With each interaction, Detour proves an apt title: the dancers provoke and disturb each other’s movements and every point of contact is marked by a distraction or a diversion. With mechanical urgency, the dancers fall in and out of synchronicity and in and out of touch. There is a seeming effortlessness, an automacy to the motion on stage, though occasional moments of softness and of fragility, where the dancers’ breath becomes acutely noticeable, reinvest the humanity in the piece.
Quartermark itself is a sensational potpourri of five works selected from across the company’s recent repertoire. Here, the harshness and austerity of Proverb is contrasted with the joviality and fervour of Hungarian Dances. Proverb’s sparsity and dissonance is embodied in the dancers’ strict angular modernist movements, executed cleanly and confidently while the spirit of the Hungarian Dances is communicated with a buoyant, balletic sensibility. In this, the company’s most recent work, first performed at Festival Theatre Edinburgh on 20 September 2018, pianist Jason Ridgway performs Brahms’ masterwork live on stage. The dancers join him and alternating solo and ensemble settings create a flourish of activity, a vivacity reflecting the liveliness and spontaneity of the Hungarian folk melodies, as curated and elaborated by Brahms. The dance’s light-hearted spirit is held up by the flowing, delicate and floral adorned dresses designed by Fotini Dimou and created by Hilary Wili. A nod to classical ballet wear, these costumes do well to underscore the piece’s more traditional choreographic style.
This diversity captured in the evening’s programme speaks to the rich eclecticism of Sir Richard Alston’s talents and achievements throughout his career, including his ability to breathe new life into familiar musical works and communicate and reinforce their expressive richness through motion. With the Richard Alston Dance Company set to draw its curtains in 2020, now is as good a time as ever to revel in Alston’s achievements and appreciate the profound power of music and dance on stage.
Quartermark was performed on 1 and 2 March at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. The Richard Alston Dance Company will be touring the UK throughout March. For more information, see the company’s website.