New moves from Richard Alston

Richard Alston has been a leading figure in contemporary dance for more than 40 years and the company that bears his name are great favourites in Norwich. He explains to SIMON PARKIN how their latest visit features three exciting new pieces.

Richard Alston came late to ballet — he was 17 before he saw his first production, but he has now been at the forefront of British dance for more than 40 years.

The company that bears his name is widely regarded as one of the most innovative and inclusive of contemporary dance producers and have long been favourites with Norwich Theatre Royal audiences.

Next week they return with another programme that includes three pieces that will be new to Norwich dance lovers, including a revival of Roughcut, one of the choreographer's best loved works, and Out of the Strong, a brand new piece based on the life of Russian composer Prokofiev.

As usual the programme is wildly varied — ranging from romantic piano music to the sharp, hypnotic rhythmical beats of modern composer Steve Reich.

Alston has a reputation as one of the most musical of choreographers and he is, as ever, keen to talk about the programme and excited to be back in Norwich.

'This is like a regular visit for us and we always like coming to Norwich. And this time we've got an all new programme, there is nothing that we've done in Norwich before,' he says.

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'There is a piece that I've made this year called Out of the Strong which is to Prokofiev, quite romantic piano music. Then there is Roughcut that I probably did in Norwich when I was with Rambert back in the 1990s, but which we have not done since then but we have just revived it.

'It is a piece to music by Steve Reich and it's very energetic. It's one of my favourite pieces so I've been working hard to revive it. It has got lots of energy in it, lots of solos and lots of opportunities for people to do different things, so it's a really good company piece.

'The third piece, which opens the programme, is by Martin Lawrance whose work we have featured before and who danced with the company for some 11 years or more, so Norwich audiences would known him as a dancer.

'We have been developing his choreography within the company and I think this is the best thing he has ever made. It's called Lie of the Land, it's danced to a piece for string quartet by an American composer called Ned Rorem and it's very dramatic. There is something quite dark going on. It's basically features four couples but there is another man, an extra dancer, who comes on and disrupts the main couple and there is something strange, some inner tension that is going on. I won't say what happens, but it's quite dramatic.'

Alston has been particular keen to revisit Roughcut, a piece that is widely regarded as a contemporary classic is set to Reich's New York and Electric Counterpoints for clarinet and guitar. Created in 1990, it has been a smash-hit with audiences who love its pure energy.

'It's probably one of the most success pieces I have ever made,' he reflects. 'We revived it the late 1990s but this time we've gone back and got videos of all the performances and I went back to the tape of Rambert when I first made it in 1989 and it was a brilliant cast that I made it with back then.

'It's very exciting to make it make sense now to the young dancers in my company. It's a piece that offer them great opportunity to do things on their own but at the same time they have to work together as a team.

'It's very rhythmical music, some of it has got a very clean sharp sound, layer upon layer of clarinet, while the second half has a cooler more laidback feel.'

The programme comes bang up to date with Out of the Strong which takes Prokofiev's brilliantly complex sixth Piano Sonata as its musical inspiration.

'That's a piece I did last year, so it's very new, and its Russian piano music from Prokofiev. One dancer is very much the composer figure and it's about some of the things that happened in his life and to capture the beauty of this piece of music, his sixth Piano Sonata, which is played live on stage by pianist Jason Ridgway.

'He had a very complicated life because he fled abroad after the revolution. Then in 1938 because of his family he decided to go back and found himself being hounded by Stalin. They think that he and Shostakovich, the other great composer of the time, escaped because they wrote such good film music and Stalin was a lover of cinema.'

The balance of musical pieces is very much in mind when the company are putting a programme to bring to the Theatre Royal.

'You try to make it as varied as possible,' says Richard. 'There is a famous quote from Balanchine, the Russian choreographer, who said 'a good programme is like a good meal, you want a little of everything'. You don't want three chocolate puddings.

'I always try to end the evening on something exciting and Roughcut is a very challenging piece and ends the evening on a high which I think dance is every good at. It can get you to leave the theatre several inches off the ground. I love it when you see people trying the movement as they leave, especially young people.'

Hopefully the audience in Norwich will leave having been moved. 'Norwich audiences are always very appreciative but also look very sharply and if they don't like something they say so. That's probably quite Norfolk.'

n Richard Alston Dance Company will be performing at Norwich Theatre Royal on March 1- 2, �18.50-�5.50, 01603 630000,

n A pre-performance talk will take place on March 1 at 7pm. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.