Richard Alston Dance Company

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Five stars

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Wonderfully clean lines, burnished with intricate details of footwork or gesture, and profound musicality - we’ve come to expect these as a given in Richard Alston’s choreography. Yet Alston often weaves stories into his work: not necessarily linear narratives, as such, but characteristics - perhaps referencing a historical period or an individual - that filter in the very real humanity that exists in the music, and inspires his dance-making.

This is to the fore in Alston’s Carnaval, premiered with real elan by the company in Edinburgh. Robert Schumann’s piano suite of that name whirls us into the arms of masquerade and secret identities, Alston’s choreography points us towards the composer’s own disparate “twin selves” - Schumann named them Eusebius and Florestan - and the challenge these personality traits presented to his beloved Clara.

While various couples waltz by in masked flirtation, Eusebius (a debonair Liam Riddick) partners Clara (Elly Braund) with a romantic tenderness that is at risk when the wilder Florestan (Nicholas Bodych) makes his unnerving presence felt. Pianist Jason Ridgway, playing live on-stage, is a remarkable powerhouse of Schumann’s shifting moods and demanding tempi - the dancers respond with a verve that is thrillingly punctilious, expressive but never over-cooked.

Chacony is an implicit act of remembrance where the secure patterns of baroque Purcell - acknowledged in Alston’s elegant courtly formations - give way to a sense of unease, of sudden neediness as the same dancers, devoid of costume finery, cluster like pale wraiths in search of those vanished structures.

Britten’s music here is rooted in the horrors he saw in recently liberated German concentrations camps. The vibrant soundscore for Alston’s sassy, buoyant Gypsy Mix might seem a polar opposite until you realise there’s a connection - these traveling folk are moving to escape persecution... A strikingly wise, stimulating and rewarding programme.