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Barbican Britten: Phaedra review at Barbican Theatre London

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The Barbican opens its two-week centenary celebrations of Benjamin Britten with a quadruple bill of short works by choreographer Richard Alston. Combined with the lustrous singing of Robin Tritschler and Allison Cook, and the sensitive playing of the Britten Sinfonia led by Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, the programme is both a fitting tribute to the British composer and a welcome uplift for British contemporary dance. Significantly for Alston – the veteran dancemaker who has, perhaps, been overshadowed by younger talent in recent years – it is his new choreography that dazzles, especially the short plotless piece Holderlin Fragments. Set to Britten’s song cycle of the same name, its ingenuity and detail are as good as anything seen in the past decade, while its humour is a reminder that contemporary dance doesn’t have to be po-faced. Holderlin Fragments is for six dancers, all accomplished, but it is Nathan Goodman’s performance as “Youth” which stands out. Nimble, quick and polished, Goodman catches the airy-ness of the young with insouciant ease.

The other new work is Phaedra, Alston’s interpretation of Britten’s micro-opera of the same name. Alston gives the lead story-telling role to the mezzo soprano Allison Cook, with his dancers providing a chorus-like function. They move with ritual seriousness, but the choreography possibly lacks decisive story-telling. Only the moves for Ihsann de Banya paint him as the recognisable Hippolytus, Phaedra’s stepson with whom she falls dangerously in love.

The other two works of the programme – Lachrymae and Illuminations – are flawlessly danced. Both were created in 1994, illustrating an earlier aspect of Alston’s choreographic journey.

Production Information

Barbican Theatre, London, November 6-9

Benjamin Britten
Richard Alston
Richard Alston Dance Company
Nicholas Bodych, Elly Braund, Nathan Goodman, Marianna Krempeniou, James Muller, Nancy Nerantzi, Liam Riddick, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Jennifer Hayes, Ihsaan de Banya
Running time
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