To watch Richard Alston’s choreography is to think that there is goodness in the world. And light and reason and modesty, harmony and grace. When there’s so much darkness about – in the aesthetics of contemporary dance and the world at large – it is all the more regrettable that this is the last outing for the Richard Alston Dance Company after 25 years as a cornerstone of British contemporary dance.
The company is closing due to a funding gap rather than any lack of appetite from the 71-year-old choreographer, and he’ll continue to work independently. His sense of forward motion is on display here in an array of recent and new work.
Isthmus, from 2012, is the oldest piece on stage, albeit one that feels timelessly modern. The dancing is smart, beautiful, clear as a ringing note struck on the side of a glass. It is also a great example of Alston’s famously musical choreography, which doesn’t laboriously mimic melody or pulse but dances alongside it, providing a counterpoint and catching certain tones and turns of phrase.
The 2015 duet Mazur makes the bill in order to give a proper farewell to pianist and longtime collaborator, who plays a selection of Chopin mazurkas on stage. A dextrous, sensitive player, his dynamic shifts underscore the dance. Alston’s steps are so fluently arranged it’s like being on your best conversational form. Swift chainé turns and grand jetés are absorbed into deft phrases, the difficulty of a series of jumps where the body changes direction are effortlessly underplayed; it’s dance that wears its intelligence lightly.
Another nod to an important collaborator comes in Martin Lawrance’s A Far Cry. Lawrance started as a dancer in Alston’s company in 1995, before becoming rehearsal director and associate choreographer. The work brings intoxicating speed, with the dancers’ clarity in quickly unfolding angles never compromised.
The new piece Shine On was made as Alston faced the reality of losing his company, and it’s a subdued yet defiant work, the dancers facing the audience as soprano Katherine McIndoe sings WH Auden’s text in Benjamin Britten’s On This Island: “Let the hot sun / shine on, shine on.” The performers serious-faced and resolute, they open and close the piece in strident, certain unison, etching the elegant figures of Alston’s choreography with its deeply classical sensibility. There’s a poignant central duet for Niall Egan and Joshua Harriette, made of tender strength, careful grip and small details.
The evening and the company itself closes with Voices and Light Footsteps, another fine new work that is Alston at his best. Set to a mix of Monteverdi, the dancers fly, swoop and lunge in light glancing leaps and gently tilted lines. (It shares a title but none of its steps with a Monteverdi piece Alston made in the 80s.) There is a spellbinding solo by Monique Jonas, a young dancer of great composure and singing lines. Alston has always nurtured talented performers, and this current company has a rich mix of styles and physiques yet they dance with a truly unified voice. They will all, no doubt, go on to rewarding careers elsewhere. As, hopefully, will Alston himself. As a company, though, they will be much missed.
• At Sadler’s Wells, London, on 8 March.