Identify two live professional dance performances that you have seen recently. Compare these in terms of style, subject matter, movement content, structure, personnel and physical setting.
Two live performances that I have been privileged to see during my A Level studies are ‘Such Longing’ by Richard Alston and ‘Flesh and Blood/Double Take’ double bill by Lea Anderson. I saw the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs perform Anderson’s work at the Merlin Theatre, Frome, in 2004, and Alston’s work performed by his company, Richard Alston Dance Company at the Theatre Royal, Bath, in 2005.
Alston and Anderson are very different choreographers, Alston being a very classical movement material driven contemporary choreographer. Anderson is a postmodern choreographer and her work tries to shed all the ‘traditional’ aspects of contemporary dance.
‘Such Longing’ is a very lyrical piece created by Alston to an accompaniment of Chopin Nocturnes and Etudes. Alston was inspired by the feelings in the music and the story of Chopin’s love affair and memories of his homeland. In complete contrast, Anderson’s double bill was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her dance career, and to see if it was possible for her male company, the Featherstonehaughs to dance a work created for her female company, the Cholmondeleys and vice versa.
‘Double Take’ has a bright, almost realistic lighting design, which reminds me of a nightclub or a party. ‘Such Longing’ contrasts with this double bill as it is performed under a dreamy, subtle lighting design in soft purples and blues, fitting for it’s romantic subject matter. The physical setting differs enormously too. ‘Double Take’ in front of a gold foil fringe curtain as fits the cabaret style of this piece. There are tables and chairs on the side of the stage for the dancers to sit on whilst not performing, and beer and cigarettes. Alston’s dancers remain off stage in a traditional dance manner. Anderson’s set design fits with her post modern style, effectively breaking the dance rules by leaving everything on show and bringing the dancers back stage beer and cigarettes on stage.
Alston uses classically driven movement vocabulary. In the first solo for a male dancer there is use of arabesque with leans in and out of this position, in the second solo for a male dancer the movement becomes more fluid with distinctive upturned palms during hand gestures. There are a series of duets, and during one of these, the female dancer leans back over the male dancers thigh before plunging backwards creating an arched shape has her head hangs by her heels. There is also use of a repeated motif in a duet where the male dancer holds the female dancer under her arms, and she sinks into a deep plié in first, her heels lifting from the floor.
Anderson’s movement vocabulary has evolved from the study of pedestrian movement. Her piece is created from a number of short sections. In the first of these, the dancers stand in a grid formation, and perform a karaoke style number with each dancer singing a line in turn before passing the microphone and long lead to next dancer in a series of inventive ways. Between singing their lines, the dancer pose in ever changing typical posture of a karaoke bar, from nervous stances to full blown arms out stretched ‘look at me’ shapes. They also change position within their grid formation. In the ‘Barstools’ section, 3 dancers take the stage with their barstools, and perform a series of every day gestures, such as miming drinking, campily pointing their fingers at imaginary friends in a ‘you the man’ pose and falling drunkenly from their stools. These are repeated in canon and in unison and become more and more exaggerated throughout the section developing from mere pedestrian movement to full blown dance. In the last section of the dance, the dancers take to the stage individually, and each have a ‘Fame’ like moment, showing off their favourite moves, bursting with exuberance.
There is also a difference in costume; the dancers in Alston’s piece wear simple trousers and dresses in muted tones that match the lighting. They allow easy movement and do not distract the dancers or the audience. Anderson’s dancers in ‘Double Take’ have various suits in tweedy fabrics in a range of brown shades. They dance in leather brogues and wear ties. The Alston dancers dance exclusively in bare feet, the reintroduction of shoes into dance being a postmodern device. The suits of the Anderson’s dancers limit their movement, and as the piece progresses various items such as the ties and jackets are removes as the section require.
As for personnel, the dancers chosen by Richard Alston are all of the similar build and stature providing a pleasing uniformity to his company, something that suits the style of his work. Anderson chose women of varying heights and builds and used these in her choreography to comic effect, for example during the first section following a tall, blond dancer with a deep voice with a small, bird like dancer with a very high pitched voice.
Over all, Alston’s work is far more serious in tone, as the accompaniment and the subject matter would dictate. The feelings expressed in the music are treated sensitively by Alston’s choreography. Anderson’s work is positively irreverent, and intentionally provokes laughter in the audience at times. She uses the familiar pedestrian gestures to subtly poke fun at habits and mannerism the audience can recognise in themselves.