Feature: Q & A Richard Alston

Friday 9 April 2010

Richard Alston Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Richard Alston launched his own company in 1994. Currently on a UK tour, they come to London for performances at Sadler’s Wells in March. Alston is one of the most influential figures in British dance. He choreographed his first work in 1968 as one of the original students at London School of Contemporary Dance, directed this country’s first independent dance company, Strider, and was Artistic Director of Rambert Dance Company from 1986 to 1992.

When did your interest in dance first start?
My interest in dance started with ballroom dancing classes at boarding school so I must have been aged about 10. I did so well that I was asked to stay behind and teach the juniors.

Did you train in dance?
I trained in dance at the London School of Contemporary Dance from 1967 to 1970 and for a further two years at the *CunninghamSchool*in New York from 1975 to 1977.

Can you remember the first dance company you saw?
Yes, but I can’t remember their name. It was a folk dance company from Poland at the Festival Hall in the 50s. They might have been called Mazowze. I absolutely loved them and desperately wanted a pair of red boots!

Who or what are your influences?
Merce Cunningham, whom I studied with, Sir Frederick Ashton, who I knew at Rambert, Fred Astaire and Auguste Bournonville – the thing they all have in common is a passion for fast steps.

What’s your favourite book?
A huge book which I dip into time and again is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s supposed to be so difficult, it’s actually very funny. It’s more than funny, it’s very Irish and the language is wonderfully poetic.

- film? Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew, Some Like it Hot and The Third Man. You choose between these three, I can’t!

and CD?
Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Frank Sinatra, who I think has got the sexiest voice in the whole world. I would definitely need a Frank Sinatra record on a desert island.

What is your usual starting point for a new work?
Music, music, music!

Your new work, The Devil in the Detail, uses the music of Scott Joplin. What is it about his ragtime style that appeals to you?
The underlying rhythm is so feisty but the detail is so elegant. I think that’s a wonderful mix.

Julien MacDonald designed beautiful costumes for your piece, Shimmer, in 2004. Any plans to work with him – or any other fashion designer – again?
Julien has spoken about working together again but we haven’t yet got together to talk properly.

Your company celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. Did that feel like a milestone?
No, I didn’t really notice! I spent twelve years with Rambert and if I can get past that at The Place, that will feel like a milestone!

You are Artistic Director of The Place, could you say what that involves?
It involves being an artistic voice in a team of four who are the senior management – Theatre director, John Ashford, General Manager, Nigel Hinds and School director Veronica Lewis. As a team, we are responsible for the policy and the vision of the organisation. We’re also supposed to keep it out of the red!

How do you see your company’s role developing in the British dance scene?
There are a lot of young choreographers around, not so many who develop their work into maturity. I see myself as a survivor and one who still passionately believes in things which are disappearing fast – dancers trained to a high level of technical skill and choreographers who work closely with serious music and let dance speak for itself. That makes me feel it’s so important to carry on and I’m happy that our audiences seem to think the same.

Your season at Sadler’s Wells includes a new work by Martin Lawrance, one of your dancers. Is this part of a move to expand the range of your company? Is your work becoming more collaborative?
Martin’s development as a choreographer is something that’s happened organically within the company. It feels quite natural that I should give him a chance to develop his work but I’m not actively looking for other choreographers.

If your life’s work hadn’t become dance, what might it have been?
I think I might have been a writer and eventually I’d still like to do that.

What’s next for you and your company?
We have a big commission from the Barbican to celebrate Steve Reich’s 70th birthday in September. It’s wonderful to get that kind of support from a venue and I’m grateful. Also, next January, after the success of this year’s tour, we’ve been asked back to the US, this time to California and Philadelphia. The work is finding a new audience abroad and that is terrific.

More on Richard Alston Dance Company and on www.theplace.org.uk

Article posted 2006

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