Richard Alston Dance Company premieres new piece set to Schumann (3 stars)

Dance review: Richard Alston Dance Company

Richard Alston's trademark style makes for an elegant, entertaining evening

It's a mark of choreographer Richard Alston's generosity that at the world premiere of his new work Carnaval, he gives the prestigious opening slot to a young Scottish dance company who impressed him recently at a festival. Re:Volution's Into the Subconscious is short but beguiling, sending its dancers firing across the stage in one long molecular chain, then splitting them into asymmetrical patterns and frozen shapes. It's an impressive opener to Alston's entertaining, elegant programme.

Carnaval is based around Schumann's solo piano piece of the same name and follows a group of revellers at a party, including the composer himself in the guise of his two alter egos – boisterous Florestan and introverted Eusebius. Both personalities duet and trio with sweetheart Clara; other partygoers echo their formations, the sprightly clean lines of their partnering. Schumann's score, played live by the outstanding Jason Ridgway, seems made to be danced, rollicking with hectic rhythms one minute, diving into introspective melodies the next. Alston's choreography falls heavily on courtly themes, and along with Fotini Dimou's muted, graceful costumes makes the piece feel a little polite for a masquerade.

Also falling on the formal side is finale Gypsy Mixture, a 2004 work scored by Electric Gypsyland, overlapping music from around the world. These are sounds that cry out to be matched with dance flair, but Alston keeps his dancers to drills of precise counts throughout – hip sways seem calculated, loping gaits are measured. The silky costumes are a splash of hot colour but the dance feels zapped of its gypsy spirit.

Alston is at his finest in the middle piece, Chacony, created last year to Britten's arrangement and variations on Purcell's 'Chacony', which was a response to Britten visiting liberated Nazi concentration camps in 1945. Stately but simple crimson robes clothe the cast and the strong, solemn semi-circle they make hints at hope and defiance. They change into pale grey, and both movement and music take on a more unstable tone. There are moments here that stop the breath; three women dragged onstage in lifeless pietas, laid to the ground only to rise again. Uncanny squats and clutches match Britten's discordant harmonies. There is another layer of meaning here that lingers in the shadows of the dance.

Reviewed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Fri 22 Sep.

Richard Alston Dance Company

The acclaimed dance company embarks on its last tour, before the company shuts its doors in 2020.