This year’s Dance Umbrella festival sees contemporary dance acknowledging its own history. The latest programme to feature rare revivals of old works is by Richard Alston Dance Company , which opens with captivating excerpts of Alston’s choreography from 1969 to 1984. You watch the spare lines, muted moves and measured counterpoint of his earliest work as they become transfigured by sharper rhythmic variety, extend into irregular tilts and twists, and build into swift ensemble configurations. In the hushed partnering of Doublework (1978), the dancers fold in upon themselves, expressing both intimacy and isolation. Alston has never been brash, but these youthful works remain remarkably fresh, and are a delight to watch.
Other Than I, a short piece by former company dancer Martin Lawrance, shows Alston’s stylistic influence, but gives it a more dramatic inflection. This brief encounter between two women contrasts their coiled spins and flung gestures with the open, soaring countertenor of a François Couperin song, churning up a moody undertow of disquiet. By contrast, Robert Cohan’s In Memory, made in 1989 for London Contemporary Dance Theatre, is in a style rarely seen today: sculpted shapes rendered dynamic by tension and torsion, and loaded with weighty symbolism. A male quartet, alternately bound by ritual and divided by antagonism, are joined by two women, one in combative red, another in yearning purple. It all feels rather dated and heavyhanded.
Time has made a different mark on the piece that closed the show, a new work by Alston. In Unfinished Business, the edge and determination of the early pieces has been replaced by something both softer and more conventional (it’s a pleasing piece, closely pegged to its Mozart score), yet more sophisticated in its detail. It also seems to mask, rather than express, its kernel of melancholy. That, perhaps, is age talking.