Brisk dancing as Richard Alston return to Norwich

Nancy Nerantzi and Nicholas Bodych in Brisk Singing. Photo: Chris Nash

Nancy Nerantzi and Nicholas Bodych in Brisk Singing. Photo: Chris Nash - Credit: Archant

Something old, something new and something unexpected, the latest visit by Richard Alston Dance promises a diverse programme that loyal audiences have come to expect. The choreographer tells SIMON PARKIN more as the tour starts in Norwich.

A world premiere, a work fresh from ecstatic five-star reviews, and a revival of one of the company's best loved works, which marked a defining point for the choreographer whose name the company bears.

The visit of Richard Alston Dance Company to the Norwich Theatre Royal is an annual treat for dance fans from across the region, a date to be marked in the calendar

For two decades the contemporary dance ensemble, led by acclaimed choreographer Richard Alston, who has been at the forefront of British dance for 45 years, has brought some of the most innovative and acclaimed productions, packed with superbly skilled choreography, to the Norwich stage.

Last year they were in celebratory mood as the company celebrates its 20th anniversary with a programme that included new productions and old favourites. And that is winning formula that continues on the company 2016 tour, which kicks-off in Norwich.

The programme includes three major pieces including associate choreographer Martin Lawrence's Stronghold as well as pieces by Richard Alston including his most recent work Mazur, which garnered huge acclaim on its premiere last year, and a revival of his popular work Brisk Singing.

And as an extra treat, there will also be first ever world premiere company performance of Dutiful Ducks, a work Richard Alston first choreographed in 1982 as a solo for a then up-and-coming young dancer Michael Clark when he was just 17.

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'We will be doing the very first performance for this company of this piece I did for Michael Clark,' says Richard of the work which is an amalgamation between ballet steps and contemporary movement set to a rhythmic, stuttering sound poem by American composer Charles Amirkhanian.

'It is a solo a very rhythmical piece, set to a very weird piece of music; words that repeat themselves — ducks, dutiful, dutiful ducks, and so on. The words don't have much meaning, but they make a rhythm and there is a lot of humour in them.

'That is a solo for Liam Riddick who has learnt it and is performing it wonderfully in rehearsal but will have its company world premiere on the February 4 in Norwich. It is a very technical piece, quite classical really. Short, sharp and sweet.'

Though it is a premiere, it is based on the oldest work on the programme. The most recent is Stronghold from Martin Lawrence, which will open the show.

'It was originally called Opening Gambit because he did half of it for to open a programme we did last summer, but then it became a much more intense piece so he named it after the music which is called Stronghold,' explains Richard.

'It is a fitting title for the piece because although it looks a lot of fun it isn't, it is very intense. It is very speedy, it is very punchy. It involves the whole company then in the second half it whittles down to seven dancers and there are some remarkable duets and solo material.

'It is about people who are very strong together, because that is one definition of a stronghold. The way you can have, for insistence a Catholic stronghold or a Tory stronghold, where all people believes one thing. So it is about a community that are very strong together because they believe in something. It is a very exciting piece and a fantastic piece of music, very unusual.'

It is set to music written, unusually, for eight double basses by another American composer Julia Wolfe.

'We brought Madcap to Norwich and it was a huge success and that is the same composer. This is a different sort of piece, but the same sort of excitement as Madcap. It is for eight double basses, so very rich layered sound. I think it is a great piece, so I'm very happy we are bringing that.'

The central potion of the evening will feature Mazur, Richard Alston's latest work inspired by the exile of composer Frederick Chopin's exile in Paris and set to his Mazurkas.

'It is a duet that I made in the summer to Chopin's Mazurkas,' explains the choreographer. 'It is a dance for two men and the music is supposed to be about Chopin and one of his Polish friends. The Mazurkas are really though about his feelings for Poland. He felt very homesick and he poured all his feelings about his country and he poured it all into this music. It is about two friends who are supporting each other when they are feeling not so happy about not being it home.'

He added: 'It was well received last summer and has become quite a cornerstone for us. You know we always have questionnaires for the audience to fill in and interestingly different people chose different pieces in the evening as their favourite but quite a large number chose Mazur on the last autumn tour.'

As a duet solely between two men it is unusual. 'It is about friendship and about how Chopin had very close male friends because he was very homesick in Paris,' says Richard. 'Although he was in this very fashionable place and he was doing wonderfully, all the time he felt he could never go back to Poland because he was a political exile and he put that into all his music really but the Mazurkas more than any other really, because the Mazurka is a Polish dance form. It is special music so it is wonderful to make a dance to it.'

The piece will feature James Muller who training at the Linda Shipton School of Dance in Ipswich before studying at the Royal Ballet School and Central School of Ballet.

'We try to make it easier for families to see what they shelled out all for that money and gave all that time for, it is a long business to become a dancer,' said Richard.

James adds: 'It's rare that I get to dance in this part of the world, so even though it's in Norwich it feels like coming home. It means that my family can travel up and see me dance and we can get together afterwards, so it feels good.'

As ever with Richard Alston the music is being played live on stage by pianist Jason Ridgway.

'Whenever Jason plays he always plays on stage. We don't put him in the orchestra pit. It means that you can watch the dancers and him watching each other, which is part of the performance. You can see that they are really working together.'

Closing the night in colourful style will be Brisk Singing, which the company first premiered in 1997, which Richard was keen to revive.

'All the dancers return for Brisk Singing which is set to really uplifting music from Jean-Philippe Rameau. It is a piece that I made quite some time ago and it has always been a very important piece for me.

'I always felt that it was a turning point in my creative journey. It has been wonderful to go back to it and I have to say the present company dance it absolutely wonderfully. It features beautiful colours, wonderful silk dresses for the women by Jeanne Spaziani and embroidered waistcoats for the men. It is the colourful end to the evening and there is this amazing baroque music.'

t Richard Alston Dance, Norwich Theatre Royal, February 4-5, 7.30pm, £20.50-£7, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

www.richardalstondance.com

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