Last night, at a loose end in Edinburgh for the evening, I went to see the Richard Alston Dance Company at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
Here is a link to a youtube video of part of one of the pieces: Lachrymae. In Lachrymae, three couples, each bereaved, console, comfort and even sometimes attack each other.
I was surprised to find that my favourite piece of the evening was, in fact, Martin Lawrance’s “Brink”, set to an unlikely tango by a Japanese composer and performed on, bless my soul, an accordion.
I am, to friends not similarly unafflicted – notoriously incapable of understanding dance – I am, I suppose, what you might call dancelexic – and spend much of my time bewildered by what is supposed to be happening on stage. Last year, I went to see a performance of Onegin and utterly failed to grasp, until I read it in the next morning’s newspaper review, that each character was being played by three dancers simultaneously. I just thought that the large cast tended to be a bit, well, ~samey~. For this reason, I went to the pre-show talk by Alston himself in order to ease some of the bafflement. This did help me enjoy the two narrative pieces of the night rather better than would have otherwise been the case, but I still enjoyed the other two pieces even more.
I was also surprised that Alston declared that he thought the Festival Theatre one of the best spaces in the world; named it as his favourite; and said that New York in particular lacked any comparable space. There was much polite laughter when he started down this route – the sort of response an after dinner speaker will get for going through the polite gestures an audience might expect, welcome, but not believe – but he was apparently quite in earnest.
Two of the pieces, Lachrymae and Illuminations, were based on works by Britten, with the first performed live: the viola and piano were on stage with the dancers. I’d probably have paid to see that by itself: a great performance. Just as well, too. At the official Edinburgh Festival this year I went – again, to the Festival Theatre – to see im Goldenen Schnitt, another revival of a dance piece from a couple of decades ago, and it was so awful, so pretentious and so caustically smug that I had begun to think that I just wasn’t cut out to watch dance.