Richard Alston finds a new world of expression in Kathak dancer Vidya Patel.


Liam Riddick and Vidya Patel seemed airborne in ‘An Italian in Madrid’.

Richard Alston has a company of accomplished dancers, well rehearsed, who execute his choreography with such lightness that you could hardly hear a footfall.

It was as if the dancers were whispering,’I can flow and I can fly’. Alston takes his inspiration from the music and the lives of it’s composers, extrapolating their characters from tiny nuances in the musical phrasing.

Brisk Singing low res 2‘Brisk Singing’ was a masterclass in how to choreograph.

The first piece, ‘Brisk Singing’, to Jean-Philippe Rameau, was to set the baroque tone of the evening. As Rameau was a dominant composer of French opera, as well as of music for the harpsichord, it was not surprising to hear a beautiful counter-tenor voice (Rogers Covey-Crump?) among the songs. ‘Brisk Singing’ is a Masterclass in ensemble choreograpy for young dancers to study.

The composition echoed the structure of the music: for example, it contained counterpoint and fugue.There was a sense of spatial expansion as the dancers filled the stage; but the dancing always presented as a whole. There was no question about which way to look. One could look through the whole into the parts.  Alston is not only highly musical and kinesthetic, but he is sensitive to visual design. How could Alston make contemporary dance look so fresh and yet so 18th century? The dances were energetic, yet accented with restraint: some movements intimated courtly dance.Perhaps, the level of refinement in the choreography also created a sense of the past.

‘Mazur’ to the music of Chopin mazurkas, was a composition for  two men, expatriates and kindred spirits from Poland, in Paris like Chopin, yearning for their homeland. As in melancholy, Romantic music, the dancing by Nicolas Bodych and Liam Riddick contained elements of  humourous pathos -the little bows- to whom? The slightly mannered performance lent  poignancy to the dislocation of the two men. The pianist onstage, Jason Ridgway, was an inspiration to the performers. Again the dancers used restraint as part of the portraiture of the two men.

The third composition,’Stronghold’, choreographed by Martin Lawrence to music by Julia Wolfe, presented a contrast with the previous Alston pieces. The music, which is composed for 8 double basses, had echoes of New York minimalism; clusters of notes colliding and fracturing, lending urgency and intensity to the choreography. It was a tour de force for the company. Different groups of dancers emerged from the ensemble to perform -three, two, one. The choreography was constructed around tension between pushing and pulling and around the distribution of weight. However, the dancers were kept in almost perpetual motion. There was a sustaining moment of quiet in which a sculptural pas de deux was performed between a man and a woman. It delivered a moment of meditation in an otherwise uncompromising attack.



In his final contribution ‘An Italian in Madrid’ ‘ Alston met his Muse, the young Kathak dancer, Vidya Patel. Under the guidance of her teacher, Sujata Banerjee , Vidya Patel first came to the attention of a wider artistic community as a finalist in BBC Young Dancer 2015 awards. She has developed in an ancient tradition of reverence for her teacher and reverence for her art form. Kathak dance was once performed in the courts of the Moghul rulers of India and  retains  a courtly elegance from that history. It is not surprising that Alston should draw from another classical form deriving from royal courts, ballet, for his movement inspiration here. Alston turns to the baroque music  of the Neapolitan Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), and he draws the narrative for this work from Scarlatti’s life.

In 1719 Domenico left Italy to get out from under his famous father, and he accepted an appointment at the court in Lisbon. There he taught a talented young princess, Maria Magdalena Barbara, who would take him to Spain with her when she married Fernando, crown prince of Spain. Domenico’s music would begin to absorb  the rhythms and melodies of Spain. The rhythms of Spanish flamenco dance are meant to have their origins in Indian dance, and we have come on a journey back to Vidya Patel.

Alston says of her that he can scarcely grasp the complexities of the rhythms she instinctively follows. Vidya is both beautiful and fragile, her movement is pruned to the most essential. Her back and upper body are lithe and elegantly expressive; in ballet we would say that she uses extravagant epaulement. In her dancing she is airborne , as well as able to move to mesmerizing rhythms of her feet. In ‘An Italian in Madrid’, she explores pushing Kathak into contemporary dance forms, and she and the company have clearly delighted in fusing ideas. It is hard to get enough of her dancing; she is endowed with the spirit of her dance and uses her masterful technique to convey its mystery.

Richard Alston left us with an interesting observation after the performance. He had learned that in Kathak, there are three elements to dance: music; choreography and rhythm.  Rhythm is a separate category, distinct from music, and a discipline in itself. Even in silence, we can move to our heartbeat.

The Richard Alston Company performed at Saddler’s Wells on 29th and 30th March 2016.



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