Richard Alston was born in Sussex in 1948. After an Eton College education, he went to the Croydon College of Art for two years. A performance by the Bolshoi Ballet provoked his interest in dance and a Royal Ballet performance of La Fille Mal Gardée confirmed it. He also saw the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing modern works and began to take evening classes at the Rambert School of Ballet.
He was one of the original students at the London Contemporary Dance School and only three months after starting the full time contemporary dance course, he made his first contribution to the choreographic workshops with Transit (1968). In his third year at the school, Alston organised a small group of advanced students to tour a demonstration of Graham technique followed by a programme of two or three short works to schools colleges and universities.
Alston went on to choreograph for London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT), before forming this country’s first independent dance company, Strider, in 1972.
In 1975, he left for New York to study, principally with Merce Cunningham. On his return two years later he worked as an independent dance maker and teacher throughout Europe. During this period, he created Rainbow Bandit (1977) for LCDT and Doublework (1978) with his own dancers, for the first Dance Umbrella festival.
Alston was appointed as Resident Choreographer with Ballet Rambert in 1980. Two years later he co-founded Second Stride with Siobhan Davies and Ian Spink before assuming the Artistic Directorship of Ballet Rambert in 1986, a post he held until 1992. In 1987, the Company’s name was changed to Rambert Dance Company to reflect the contemporary repertoire it now toured.
During these twelve years, Alston created twenty-five works for Rambert, in addition to commissioned works for the Royal Danish Ballet and the Royal Ballet. He also made Soda Lake (1981) and Dutiful Ducks (1982), two solo works for Michael Clark.
In 1992 he created Le Marteau Sans Maître (1992) for the Compagnie Chopinot in France, combining it with a revival of Rainbow Bandit (1977) to form an evening of his own work. With the creation of another full programme of work in 1994 for LCDT at the Aldeburgh Festival, it was a logical step for Alston to form his own company when he took up the post of Artistic Director of the The Place in Autumn 1994.
The Richard Alston Dance Company was launched in November 1994 to wide critical acclaim. A major television documentary about the creation of Sometimes I Wonder (1995), directed by Mark Kidell, was shown on Channel 4 in December 1996.
A joint venture between Richard Alston Dance Company and London Sinfonietta in May 1996 formed the climax to composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s retrospective at the South Bank Centre, London, in which Secret Theatre (1996), Orpheus Singing and Dreaming (1996), and Bach Measures (1996, later retitled Beyond Measure) were performed.
In October 1998, Alston celebrated his 50th birthday and 30 years of choreography with a gala evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. Included in this retrospective was Sophisticated Curiosities, a medley of extracts from past works dating from 1970 to 1990.
In January 2001 Alston was awarded the CBE in the New Year Honours list and the Company performed at the royal reopening of the Robin Howard Dance Theatre at The Place, where Water Music (2001), a special celebratory piece, was premiered.
Richard Alston Dance Company performed in autumn 2003 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in celebration of 25 years of Dance Umbrella; during the same year Alston received an honorary MA from University College Chichester.
The Company ended their 2004 spring tour with a New York debut in May at the Joyce Theater in New York, celebrating the Company’s tenth year. In 2006 the Company completed its first full US tour.
In 2008, to mark his 60th birthday and 40 years of choreography, Richard Alston was commissioned by Dance Umbrella and Sadler’s Wells to create a special programme which included the world premier of Blow Over (2008) and the London premier of Shuffle It Right (2008).
In 2009, Richard Alston was awarded the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance at the Critic’s Choice National Dance Awards. His appointment as the new Chair of Youth Dance England was also announced.
Following the success of the 2006 USA tour, the Company embarked on two further visits to America during 2009 and 2010 which included a successful week-long run at New York’s Joyce Theatre.
In 2011, Alston revisited some of his earliest works to create Early Days to be performed as part of a retrospective during the Dance Umbrella season and later on tour.
For a Guardian 'Step-by-Step' guide about Richard Alston by Sanjoy Roy from 2009, click here.
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