Originally created 05/16/04

Richard Alston Dance Company looks all grown up in American debut



NEW YORK -- If the Richard Alston Dance Company had any opening night jitters, they didn't show.

Created 10 years ago by veteran choreographer Alston, the London company made its first American appearance at the Joyce Theater Tuesday night, presenting three emotionally subtle works. It was contemporary dance for grown ups, complete with Givenchy artistic director Julien MacDonald's crystal-studded couture costumes.

Alston's abstract dances are both crisp and romantic. Precise, technical footwork and partnering mix it up with sweeping bends and leaps, creating formal pieces that never seem fussy.

His choreography takes its cue from music, starting with 1997's aptly named "Brisk Singing," set to Jean-Philippe Rameau's "Les Boreades." As the program notes tell us, the 18th-century opera depicts the Hyperboreans, citizens of a kingdom at the back of the North Wind "devoted to song, dancing and pleasure."

Such a starting point could doom a dance to mawkishness. But like Alston's movement, "Brisk Singing" has a matter-of-fact quality about it that prevents joy from descending into sentimentality. His fine dancers are understated in their delivery of the clean lines he favors.

The work's buoyancy gave way to introspection with "Shimmer," choreographed to Ravel and performed live on Tuesday by pianist Jason Ridgway. Alston created the dance in memory of his good friend, arts writer Bryan Robertson.

Givenchy designer MacDonald made his dance debut with the 2004 work, creating brief, clingy tunics whose gossamer patterns are studded with Swavorski crystals. Catching the light as the dancers moved across the stage, the crystals give literal meaning to the title.

"Shimmer" begins with three successive duets, each as much an exploration of what separates as what binds.

Easy on the eye, the duets - like Ravel's movements - could be mistaken for pretty baubles. But the work deepens as it unfolds. As Martin Lawrance settles to the stage in a final solo, peering into a shaft of light thrown across the darkened stage, he might be a departing soul or a mourner left to face life's uncertainties alone.

Less cerebral is the rigorous "Overdrive." Waves of dancers rush onto the stage in formation, Alston's patterns fitting themselves around each other and frequently meshing, much like the rhythmic patterns of Terry Riley's "Keyboard Study Á1."

Richard Alston Dance Company performs at the Joyce through May 16.