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Richard Alston in The Guardian, Thursday 14 May 2020

Move on up! The most joyful dance clips to raise the spirits

Being over seventy I have obediently stayed in my flat for six weeks now. It has been an extraordinary time as I had just gone through the biggest change in my entire working life. My dance company of twenty-five years gave its last performances at Sadler’s Wells in March and almost immediately that wonderful theatre was closed by CoVID-19 restrictions. I found myself confined to my home and woke up a couple of days later absolutely unclear as to whether I was avoiding the Coronavirus or adjusting to a rather sudden retirement.

I have been blessed with help from marvellous friends who were formerly dancers, one of them brings food shopping each week and leaves it at my door and in the warmer weather of the last few weeks we have stood socially distanced from each other on my doorstep having a good gossip. It helps to fill the long day before I settle down in the evenings with a damn good bottle of wine and watch dance on YouTube! 

What do I watch? Such 'virtual' achievements as the young dancers of Ballet Chicago doing the slow opening of Balanchine's Serenade in isolation - on their decked patios, on a windswept beach, or in their living spaces, it's something I found truly touching. I soak myself in the work of the most inspiring choreographers and companies, Balanchine, Robbins, the gifted young Justin Peck, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, the Royal Danes dancing Bournonville and of course the sublime Fred Astaire. 

One oddity that I revisit again and again is a YouTube link called "Il piu piccolo e bravo ballerino di pizzica" - a small Italian boy in Puglia launching himself joyously into elaborate and springing steps, his sneakered feet weaving in and out and his small body hardly seeming to touch the ground. All these small jewels of dance raise my spirits high (or is it the wine?).

Meanwhile, in lockdown, I have been collaborating with another of my dancers (virtually of course) on preparing and designing my own website. I can’t tell you how much I have obsessively enjoyed the detailed conversations and choices that have gone into making it what I wanted it to be. I have chosen 22 dances to include each one with a video extract and a few words trying explain what I'd set out to do in each piece.

It has been a soul-cleansing exercise and an inspiring one. I didn't really comprehend how many of my dances have been well and imaginatively recorded on camera and I've frankly been thrilled. So now I'm beginning to understand how exhilarating can be the marriage of a moving camera and dancers flying by. It’s made me seriously think about whether the speed and detail which I so love in dance does indeed come across more clearly with good camerawork and sensitive use of totally engaging close-ups - and more engagingly perhaps than on stage. What a thought! But it could well be true.

Juxtaposing these dance excerpts has been exciting and has somehow enabled me to re-evaluate what I've been doing. In all the uncertainty of the prevailing threat to everything we have come to rely on as normal, how will live performance adapt to survive? And if, perish the thought, I should never have the opportunity to choreograph again, then how thankful I am that these dances exist on screen and the videos reassure me that yes, I did something well.


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