Dance UK’s Communications and Membership Officer, Laura Dodge, speaks to Richard Alston, Artistic Director of The Place and Director and Choreographer of Richard Alston Dance Company, about his choreographic style, use of music and upcoming performances.
You are described as “one of the most musical of all choreographers”. What is it about music that you find so inspiring?
As for so many people, it’s music that makes me want to dance. When I was training, I didn’t have high leg extensions and I couldn’t jump very high but I knew musicality was something important that I could work on. Good musicality in choreography – phrasing sensitively – makes dance accessible to an audience. The connection between music and dance is vital.
Why have you chosen to create so many works to music by Benjamin Britten throughout your career?
I have a theory that composers who write wonderfully for the voice, who write music that has breath, work well as composers for movement. Their scores have a flow.
I discovered Britten’s music very young. There is something very direct, paired-down and extraordinary about it. It reaches people. I thought it was an English thing, but Britten is a truly international composer. His music is performed all over the world.
You are currently rehearsing four works to Britten music, including two which are entirely new, for performances at the Barbican in November. How are rehearsals going?
Lachrymae was created in 1994 and so we’ve put it back together. It’s all there now.
I made Illuminations in 1993 and we’ve been working on it, but I always find things I want to change. The piece explores the relationship between two poets – Rimbaud and Verlaine. I try to portray a story through choreographic images and each time I restage it, I develop the dramatic logic. The music is so exhilarating and liberated.
As for Holderlin Fragments, I am currently creating it. I always secretly wanted to make a dance to it, but because it wasn’t a well-known piece, I wasn’t sure if I should. It’s six incredibly beautiful songs and I’m so glad to have the chance now to do it.
Phaedra is the other new choreography and perhaps it’s the most exciting and also the most risky. I don’t know if it will work. Britten wrote the score when he was ill and it’s amazing that the music is so strong, theatrical and passionate when he was very weak. I will be working with Allison Cook, a young singer, and she’s going to move with the dancers rather than just stand still at the back.
Does having live music and live singers give a different feeling to the work?
We always have live music on tour – it’s very important to us. And live singers add something extraordinary. With live music, things will always be variable onstage. The dancers have to adjust. I think choreography is well made if it can adjust musically in performance. For the Britten bill, the orchestra will be behind the dancers. The programme is a real music fest as everyone will be onstage at the same time.
Apart from music, what else inspires you as a choreographer?
Music is enough on its own. But I do love architecture and sculpture. Making movement is like carving in space, with limbs drawing lines of energy. I often travel a long way to see contemporary architecture. Some buildings have a real sense of movement to them, like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
After the Britten bill, what are you planning next?
I have to confess, it’s more Britten! We’re going back to Canterbury to perform Ceremony of Carols and I have been commissioned to do another new work with the Cathedral Choir to Britten’s ‘Rejoice in the Lamb’. Then that will be the last Britten piece for a long while… Or maybe not! I’m not bored of his music for a second; I love it.
Richard Alston Dance Company performs the Britten quadruple bill at the Barbican in November: www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=14451
For further general information about Richard Alston and his company, click here: www.theplace.org.uk/radc