Tastes and influences

“What interests me is to keep on trying again with a new piece of music.  So it’s music and dance, that’s quite enough for me, then anything else becomes part of that process.”

When asked about his work, Richard Alston regularly answers that his initial motivation comes from the music and the dancers, and indeed that he finds movement itself inspiration enough. He has also cited other general influences which are briefly explored below.
 

Architecture and Space

Alston has said he finds architecture inspiring.  While it would be too much to say that any specific building has inspired his work, it can be said to have an architectural quality in terms of its use of structure and space.  For him, space is palpable: it has density and is ‘carveable’.  It is effectively a material that can be sculpted by movement.
 
Sarah Rubidge elaborates in her accompanying monograph for the Essential Alston DVD:
 
“Alston talks about his love of the English people’s obsession with mathematical structure.  It is clear from his examples, [such as] the perpendicular style gothic architecture taken up by the English in the late middle ages, through hammer-beam roofs ... that his understanding of mathematical structure spans not only the numerical (and thus the rhythmic and the musical) but also the geometric (and thus the spatial).
 
“The spatial architecture of Alston’s pieces, particularly in terms of the use of the stage space, is an important ... aspect of his work.  The spatial structures of the work, both in terms of the clarity of the ... shaping of the movement and the traces of architectural geometry created by the movement of the dancers in the space itself, are rooted in his understanding of the characteristics of the spaces humankind has created for its own pleasure.”
 

Art and Sculpture

As suggested above, Alston’s choreography has a sculptural quality and he has described his way of moving as ‘like drawing in the air’. His work has been described as ‘three-dimensional’ in the sense that the movement can be enjoyed from any viewpoint.
 
Dancers in his pieces often perform the same material at the same time or in quick succession but with different facings or travelling on a different pathway. This is a choreographic device Alston regularly uses, but because of the complexity of facings and directions of movement, it often goes unnoticed.
 
In interviews, Alston has referenced various artists including Oskar Fischinger, Naum Gabo and Henry Moore. 
 
Oskar Fischinger was an engineer turned Bauhaus filmmaker and painter. His abstract animated films illustrated the rhythmic patterns heard in the accompanying music. For an article discussing his film Motion Painting No. 1 set to music by Bach, click here.
 
Naum Gabo was a constructivist sculptor whose work included clear, clean arcs, often created by the trajectory of water in his fountains or through layers and spiralling materials. For a gallery of some of his works, click here
 
Henry Moore is most well known for his semi-abstract sculptures based on the human form. They have a weighted, organic feel and combine sharp lines with rounded form.
 
Alston was inspired by Nigel Osborne’s sculpture Soda Lake and it was a fundamental part of the eponymous piece, a structure that the dancer both interacted with and mirrored in movement. Sculptural set designs for pieces such as Wildlife (1984) and Cat’s Eye (1992) were also integral aspects of his earlier work.
 

Individuality

When starting to create a piece, Alston does not arrive with a preconceived structure as he likes to experiment in the studio and see where ‘mistakes’ will lead.  He has said that he also enjoys seeing small ‘imperfections’ - in a sense the human aspect of art.
 
Alston also appreciates individuality from his dancers and selects company members from varying backgrounds, choosing them for their own movement quality and physical characteristics.  As Rubidge puts it, “A dancer’s individuality as a performer is something in which Alston has always been interested.  If each dancer performs the same movement with a slightly different emphasis, a variety of nuances of the movement are generated.  This gives his work depth of texture that a ‘well-drilled’ corps of dancers could not achieve.”
 

Movement

Though Alston originally trained in Graham technique at London School of Contemporary Dance, he spent time in New York at the Merce Cunningham dance studio. Richard Alston Dance Company regularly takes classes in Cunningham technique and the purity of movement in many of Alston’s pieces echoes the clean lines and sharp angles often seen in Cunningham’s work.

 
However, his choreography flows with a sense of fall and suspension not seen in pieces by Cunningham partly due to the dynamics that come from tying the movement closely to the music/the intimate relationship between the movement and the music . Alston studied Release Technique with Mary Fulkerson at Dartington College and some of the values, such as keeping the skeleton in dynamic balance and using momentum to generate movement, are also apparent in his work.
 
Sarah Rubidge has discussed other influences on Alston’s movement style, including ballet and historical dance:
 
“Alston also cites Frederick Ashton as a major influence on his work. The way Alston uses the back and épaulement, and the intricacy of the steps he uses in certain works can be traced back to Ashton, who has his roots in Cecchetti, the ballet style which characterised British ballet for many decades...
 
“Belinda Quirey, an expert in historical dance, who taught at London School of Contemporary Dance when Alston was a student ... gave Alston insights into movement which have lasted to this day.  Alston has commented that she made him realise how movement itself, its shape, its quality, its dimensions could be intrinsically expressive.”

 

Music

Alston is an intensely musical choreographer and the drive to create movement in response to music arguably underlies all his work. The wide range of music he has used for his choreography includes folk (for example Gypsy Mixture), vintage popular music (Shuffle it Right), minimalist (Roughcut and Overdrive) classical (Beyond Measure), modernist (Okho) and experimental (Tiger Balm). He has also used silence, text and soundscapes, but always seeks the intrinsic rhythm in the movement.
 
For further examples of Alston’s influences visit the music section.
 
A more detailed consideration of Alston’s influences is available on the downloadable Resource Sheet below.
 

Richard Alston talked briefly about his relationship to the work of Merce Cunningham and Lucinda Childs for Dance Umbrella 2011.

Media & Resources

Downloads

Tastes and Influences (PDF 125Kb)