Silver Celebration - Dance Umbrella


by Stuart Sweeney

October 23, 2003 -- Queen Elizabeth/London

Image of the Richard Alston Dance Comapny by Chris Nash

The Silver Celebration had a muted first half, but celebrated in style after the interval. First we saw “If Not Why Not” a film of Akram Khan and the other four dancers of his Company. For me it is always a treat to see Khan’s Modern Kathak style and his own extraordinary abilities. However the film is tricksy at regular intervals and given the interest of the dance, I couldn’t see the point. The best section comes at the end when the dancers are seen against a white background without a floor or walls. This simple setting provides an appropriate backdrop for Khan’s incisive choreography.

Sara Rudner, who appeared in the first Dance Umbrella in 1978, and Christopher Jenney in “Heartbeat” had the interesting idea of wiring up the former’s heart or more exactly the nerves from the brain to the heart and reproducing this as sound quickening, slowing etc as she moved. We also heard narrated text about cardiac theory, jazz vocals and finally a saxophone. This worked for 5 minutes or so, but sadly the dance element from Rudner just wasn’t strong enough to sustain the work for anything like its 18 minutes.

However, another veteran Dance Umbrella pair, David Gordon and Valda Setterfield, worked a small miracle to kick off the second half. In “Duet from Private Lives of Dancers (2002)” we had a snatch of their domestic life with Gordon’s exquisitely timed yes and no to Setterfield’s questions as they cleared the stage of furniture. And then they danced in the simplest way possible: walking, half-turning, raising their arms, but the way they defined the space with their movement and their own separations and coming together was fine choreography. Over this we heard the voices of great partnerships from the past – Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn, Merce Cunningham and Robert Raushenberg, Toni Lander and Bruce Marks. “Duet” is a joyful celebration of a life of dancing together.

Next we saw two solos from Siobhan Davies’ new work “Birdsong”, which will be premiered in 2004. The opening birdsong was too beautiful for words – not for nothing did Olivier Messaien describe birds as the “greatest composers on the planet”. In the solo to this music Henry Montes moved and twisted with the suppleness we have come to expect from this superb dancer.

Finally, the Richard Alston Dance Company performed a section from “Roughcut” originally made for Rambert. This is Alston at his most fluent with an attitude in jetée motif particularly attractive. Apart from the excellent and long-serving Martin Lawrence, we saw mostly new dancers and the girls in particular picked up the snappy approach that the work requires.

Alston dedicated this performance, “For Val, with my love”. Everyone here at CriticalDance salutes the achievements of Val Bourne and all her team from the past 25 years.


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