Back in the days when I was a singer, I was addicted to that perfect balance of tight technical control and wild, expressive passion. This is exactly the sweet spot Richard Alston's dancers inhabit in Tangent, a tribute to all things Tango. It's Tango abstracted: the fluidity ending in a striking pose, and the sinuous aggression make it recognisable, but in flashes. The dance has now become equal and new: both dancers take turns to support and to lead, and the short all-male pas de trois is strong with camaraderie.
Tangent is set to Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) by Astor Piazzolla, arranged for solo piano by Macello Nisinman and played live by Jason Ridgway. It's a rare joy to hear live accompaniment for dance, and gives some sublime moments, and makes you believe this is exactly what the Piazzolla had in his mind's eye. The Winter couple (Oihana Vesga Bujan and Liam Ruddick) are especially haunting and lyrical.
The next dance, Chacony, divided our group. The music comprises two 'Chacony's, by Purcell and Britten. The programme states these two pieces are in the same 'form' and indeed Britten was writing in overt tribute to Purcell. A chaconne is essentially variations on a theme - with a set of chords and recurring baseline at its core. But I found the enormous difference in musical style too great to be able to hear how they related to each other. In 1945 Britten toured a recently liberated Germany with Yehudi Menuhin, and was deeply affected by what he saw. His 'Chacony' was born out of this experience, and explores the indomitable spirit of humanity, even in wretched times.
The dancers begin in clothes reminiscent of tailcoats in a dark mulberry red, with pale shift dresses and undergarments. They dance a sort of stylised minuet with very classical ballet-like movements, to Purcell's music. Switching to Britten they reappear in just the shifts and pale, wraith-like garb. Elegaic couples fall and catch each other. The end of the dance returns to the patterns at the very beginning, in tribute or mockery, and we end back in a major key.
For me, the dance as a whole didn't work. Not only did the two styles of music not connect, but I felt the ballet-like movements set to the Purcell were too late in the timeline of ballet, showcasing a formality of style that was anachronistic. The dance of the middle section was a monotone of hand-wringing sadness, not at all an exploration of the human spirit suffering. I wanted the oppressors represented, or at least the variety of human responses to oppression. (Jasmin Vardimon's 7734 and Rambert's Ghost Dances both touch on similar ground, and I feel do it better.) Ultimately I didn't feel there were enough simultaneous ideas to sustain a piece of this length, and I found my mind wandering to the logistics of their wardrobe.
Happily my companions didn't agree, seeing great compassion and pathos in the middle section, and a real redemption in the ending.
We all agreed on An Italian In Madrid: it's a fabulous piece of dance. On paper it sounds confused - a long plot involving Scarlatti (the Italian) being irreverent and migrating from Italy to Spain, while Spanish Princess Maria Barbara is wooed by Prince Ferdinand in Lisbon. The Princess is danced by Vidya Patel, a notable young Kathak dancer (one of the Indian classical dance styles, originally telling Hindu stories and full of expressive hand gestures and fast whirling). The dance is set to ten pieces by Scarlatti, mostly played live on piano, but starting off on the accordion, to symbolise Naples.
This whole rather unlikely concoction of different countries and styles works beautifully! Somehow it blends into a charming tale of courtship. It helps that Vidya Patel is luminous - regal, dignified, performing dizzying spins with absolute poise and grace. She looked serene throughout, communicating with slow blinks of her huge eyes and weaving her tradition into a new fusion.
The Princess and her attendant ladies were much better than the men at conveying the hierarchy of their group than were the men, though of course you could tell the Prince's identity as he was the best dressed. Scarlatti (Ihsaan de Banyan in natty yellow britches) leapt about, cavorting with the court entourage. And then the Prince and Princess met in a formal pas de deux. I might have liked a little more obvious swapping of dance styles - with flamenco, gypsy and Kathak in the mix I didn't get a sense of contrast with Scarlatti's Neapolitan ways. But that's just picky: I'd happily watch a whole evening developed from this piece.
The costumes were gorgeous - the women modest in trousers with swirly skirts, the Princess more covered than her maidens, and the men in velveteen knee britches and tons of gold brocade. They were dazzling, and after the myriad curtain calls ended I was left with a head full of swirling flame colours and Scarlatti's waterfall of notes in the simple black space.