The final week of April brought thought-provokingly contrasted dance performances to Oxford. On Tuesday 23rd at the New Theatre the BalletBoyz performed their latest programme Them/Us, shortly to be opening for their first West End season at the Vaudeville Theatre. This two-part programme involves all six male dancers in both pieces. Opening the evening Them was a collaborative choreographic venture by the dancers drawing on elements of their own individual movement, sharing them in a succession of often playful episodes and exchanges. Set in a twilight zone, a gleaming stainless steel tubular cube framework and sleek satin shell suits brought enlivening geometric dashes of light and colour, red, blue, green and purple. The cube defined shifting spaces which the dancers could manipulate, inhabit, swing from and climb up. Movement combined sharp crisp gesture with a lyrical contemporary idiom, integrating tumbling and floorwork in response to Charlotte Harding’s lively but dark toned score; suggestions of character and relationship were glimpsed and a feeling of camaraderie and group identity emerged, even if overall the episodic structure of the piece did not build a sense of narrative or situational development. The performers conveyed lithe fluidity and a smooth assurance, distinct from the rawness of previous BalletBoyz ensembles; no longer projecting a company narrative of emerging talent and inexperienced diamonds in the rough, but a polished professional group. (more…)

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This was a stunning evening of new dance works, alongside extracts from Kenneth MacMillan’s newly revived ballet Playground.  The curtain raiser Who’s It?!, choreographed collaboratively by Edd Mitton and Jordi Calpe Serrats with students from the Centre for Advanced Training at Swindon Dance Centre, was an ingenious preparation for MacMillan’s deeply disturbing work with its references to children’s games. In the duets from Playground that followed, Oxana Panchenko as the Girl with make-up and Jonathan Goddard as The Youth portrayed an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship, enmeshed within violent and coercive social forces, in a ballet that pushes game-playing to a horrible conclusion. (more…)

BalletBoyz’ programme of two short works at the New Theatre on Tuesday showcased the hugely energetic talent of this all-male dance company. Them, a collaborative work between the dancers and composer Charlotte Harding, gave the cast an opportunity to display their considerable technical skills. Harding has worked with BalletBoyz before (she paired with choreographer Craig Revel Horwood for The Indicator Line), and this was an adventurous and exciting work built around the possibilities offered by a giant cuboid scaffold, which the dancers turned and manipulated about the stage. A prop, a piece of scenery, a climbing frame, or simply a space to dance in; it was all these things, and also a source of metaphorical and literal suspense as the dancers’ movement controlled, (or was controlled by) it. At one point, a dancer lay across its lower bar, and was lifted up, suspended like a rag doll; later, he gripped it with one hand and rose suspended in the air above the stage as the structure slowly turned over. (more…)

Grey Matter – Choreography: Benoit Swan Pouffer

There was a lot of drama in this piece, from the striking white sheer costumes with splatters of blood-like red, to the beating bass of the music by GAIKA. The dancers appeared almost animalistic, and there was certainly an undercurrent of threat throughout the piece. There was a constant shifting between fluidity – the dancers writhing in a serpentine manner – and violence at other points, as they crept on tiptoe as if stalking prey.
Some strong characters broke away from the crowd, with some sense of narrative through the piece, but overall there was a sense of anonymity, without a huge amount of interaction between the dancers. This sometimes gave a strong vision of a faceless crowd with some individuals trying to escape; but at other times, the stage felt a little too ‘busy’ and it wasn’t always easy to follow the direction of the piece. However it was certainly an engaging start to the evening, and the edginess of the choreography was matched by the lighting, soundtrack and costumes, so it felt like a cohesive world. (more…)

Moon Dances – Jann Esterhuizen Company

This was an elegant start to the evening, with poise and delicacy at its core. The piece started slowly, with the contemporary soundtrack drawing the audience into the performance even as the lights were still up, and gradually bringing us into the world on stage as the room darkened.
The choreography was based on very classical shapes and forms, with a lot of use of the diagonal lines of the stage, and many moments being recognisably ‘balletic’, but it pushed gently at the boundaries of traditional ballet, moving out of the confines of these lines and using the body in more organic ways.
The dancers each seemed to be mostly self-contained – there wasn’t a great deal of interaction between them; rather they all seemed to be in their own separate worlds of movement.
The piece as a whole didn’t take huge risks; there was still a lot of familiar ground in the soundtrack of piano and strings (particularly with sections of Bach’s solo cello suites), and the roots of ballet in the choreography. But the fact that it was clean and not particularly gritty didn’t detract – it was a balanced and beautiful performance in all areas: choreography, performance and soundtrack.

EVA – Joe Lott Dance

In contrast to the previous piece, this had a strong sense of narrative, with spoken word as a prominent part of the performance. At the start this took the form of a performer on stage who spoke to the audience, and later on there were extracts of speech from NASA space missions as part of the soundtrack.
This provided a great sense of direction and clarity to the piece, and there were moments of perfect balance where the choreography directly matched the narration’s content. Initially this took the form of small movements which ‘acted out’ the things being narrated (for example particular actions like sowing seeds). Later on it was even more striking, as two dancers moved in unison on the floor, slowly oscillating and remoulding the shapes of their bodies as the soundtrack described movement in space. There was a real quality of weightlessness and floating – it was easy to imagine that the dancers were outside the Earth’s gravity.
I did find it easier to take in the narration from a soundtrack than the spoken delivery on stage – perhaps because this broke away from the traditional silence of dance performers. But it was certainly an absorbing performance with some real innovation of choreography.

Still Touch – Richard Chappell Dance

This was an exceptionally strong finish to the evening, with innovation and talent on show right from the first moment. The subject matter encompassed the nature of human touch and connection, and this was explored through four ‘characters’ – three dancers and a sculpted figure. This inert figure could so easily have been used in a gimmicky way, but on the contrary it was done in a way both empathetic and unabashed. The work didn’t shy away from the raw loneliness of the lack of connection to others, or the tenderness and joy of human interaction, but also showed many tones between these two extremes, connecting all three dancers and the sculpture rather than keeping them apart in separate pairs.

The soundtrack, too, was inventive and layered, and matched the emotive drive of the piece – at some points dramatic and dark, and at others almost completely still.
The choreography felt inherently organic, each movement flowing from the last, feeling almost improvised, and yet inventive and very much outside the boundaries of ‘classical’ dance. There was also no sense of gender difference between the male and female dancers. Rather than feeling one was watching a performance, it was more like looking in on an intimate world, at times troubled but ultimately beautiful.

Jess Ryan-Phillips

17th March 2019

Richard Alston Dance Company opened their show at the New Theatre, Oxford with Martin Lawrance’s energetic and fast paced creation Detour, which was followed by six pieces by Alston himself. Lawrance leaves interpretation to the audience: according to the programme, he named his piece because he started with one idea, which changed as he worked, but he leaves it to the dance to reveal what those ideas were. Performed to a recorded marimba and percussion soundtrack, its zippy pirouettes and sharp split jetés interspersed with leaps into dramatic embraces displayed the company’s virtuosity, while suggesting an underlying theme of conflict.

Richard Alston’s own programme notes offer more clues to the thoughts, images, and circumstances that lie behind his dances. (more…)

Richard Alston has been making dance for 50 years and launched his Richard Alston Dance Company 25 years ago. Both these anniversaries deserve celebrating with a special programme full of trademark lyrical choreography, new lively dances and revivals of successful works. With the announcement of the company closing in 2020, this tour will also be the penultimate chance to see a live performance by what is undoubtedly one of the world’s best dance ensembles.

Associate Choreographer Martin Lawrance will premiere his new work Detour set to Michael Gordon’s pulsing Timber with costumes by Jeffry Rogador and lighting by Zeynep Kepekli setting off Lawrance’s customary fast paced style and complicated patterns through space.

This piece will accompany a celebratory revival of Proverb, one of Alston’s most telling choreographies, to the serene and cool vocal work of Steve Reich washing over intricately complex dancing. Created in 2006 as part of Reich’s seventieth birthday celebrations at London’s Barbican, this is the first time the piece has been revived.

Culminating the evening will be Richard Alston’s exciting new work Brahms Hungarian. The hugely popular Brahms pieces, music that Alston had planned on choreographing to for years, will be played live onstage by RADC’s outstanding pianist Jason Ridgway. Full of passionate drive and joyful gusto, the dancers are carried along by fast steps and an abandoned fervour. Costumes are by award-winning designer Fotini Dimou with lighting by Zeynep Kepekli, both regular collaborators of Alston.

Performance:  Thursday 7th February 7.30pm

Venue:  New Theatre, George St, Oxford OX1 2AG

Tickets:  £13 – £26.90 Book online here

Find out more about the company here