Two Thirds Sky & The Richard Alston Dance Company

The Alston Inspired Project 2017

If you’re looking to apply to Alston Inspired 2019 - click here

“…Twenty local young dancers took to the stage to perform this incredibly exciting, physical rollercoaster of a dance, showing ability and maturity way beyond their years. It absolutely deserved its place on that stage…This must have been a wonderful opportunity for the young dancers and I hope that many of them go on to have great dancing futures. The dance itself should also have a life beyond these two nights, as it crackles like electricity…”

- Chris Sparkle: review Derngate performance 5th October, 2017


The Alston Inspired Project

What happens in the silence (2017) was the culmination of a very special collaboration between the Richard Alston Dance Company and Two Thirds Sky. The curtain raiser performance featured twenty extraordinary young performers from across Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, and was co-choreographed by RADC dancer Ihsaan de Banya and Laura Gibson from Two Thirds Sky. The work was set to the taught and rhythmically complex music of David Lang and was performed over two evenings as prelude to Alston’s professional programme at the Royal & Derngate in October 2017.

The performance was the final stage of a four-month, Alston Inspired project; directed by Two Thirds Sky and spearheaded by Essential Alston (RADC's acclaimed education programme). The professional dancers visited ten schools and colleges from across the region and worked with over two hundred young people; giving aspiring dancers a chance to experience Alston's repertory ‘up close’. The cast for this final piece was selected by Alston and the team - with Richard overseeing the work’s final development.

Casting the young performers

Initially 40 young people were selected by their teachers from participating schools and colleges and were asked to attend an Alston Inspired Masterclass. During the day-long Masterclass, Laura Gibson established a technical and stylistic grounding with the young dancers, by delivering a challenging warm-up class. This then fed into a section where the group learnt an excerpt of Alston repertory, taught by Ihsaan de Banya from Nomadic (2015: Richard Alston & Ajani Johnson-Goffe). Once the young people had learnt the material, Richard inputted with movement detail, notes on musicality and background as to the work’s creation.

From the Masterclass, twenty dancers were selected to create the new piece; and this approach to collaborative working became the blueprint for how the team would facilitate the new work for the Derngate stage.

Movement making and starting points

The process involved two research and development periods with Ihsaan de Banya, Laura Gibson and TTS AD Lisa Risdale. This was to create movement material and exploratory tasks for the young people to work with in response to music. The creative team drew upon the key aspects of Alston’s movement language – one that melds a classical/contemporary approach to the lower body, with fluidity and articulation of the spine. This became the foundation of the young peoples’ technique classes and informed their stylistic understanding.

Alston spoke to us initially about what inspired him as a young dancer, citing Henry Moore’s sculptures as having an impact on him, early in his career. We discussed the difference between Moore’s more figurative and more abstract work. Alston spoke of Locking Piece (Moore, H: 1962/63) - situated outside the Tate Britain in London, as a sculpture that made him feel a sense of being ‘home’ when he returned to the UK after training with Cunningham as a young dancer, in the US. The Alston Inspired project used this sculpture, and Moore’s use of interlocking shapes, as a starting point for creating movement material and group orchestrations. We asked the young dancers to thread through each other, and intersect each others’ personal space.

In the studio Laura and Ihsaan also created movement that drew upon their interpretation of the sound-images created by the chosen music; Cheating, Lying, Stealing (2008) by David Lang . This included a ‘striking’ swing phrase, ‘spiraling and looping’ floor-work, and ‘snaking/or threading’ material that wound its way through the piece. This last movement idea often returned - in synchronicity with the mogul tones of the clarinet theme.

The musical phrasing of the score was broken down in rehearsal into what Laura and Ihsaan called ‘telephone numbers’, demarcating the length of each bar and providing count-markers for the dancers’ movement material. This was a complex process as both the music and movement vocabulary became rhythmically asymmetric - requiring a significant level of focus from the young dancers as an ensemble.

This project was produced in close partnership with Creative Learning at Royal & Derngate with the kind support of Arts Council England, Royal & Derngate, The Core at Corby Cube, The Mighty Creatives and the University of Northampton.


‘What happens in the silence’ premiered at Royal & Derngate, 5th and 6th October 2017.


Artistic Director Richard Alston Dance Company: Richard Alston CBE

Choreography: Ihsaan de Banya and Laura Gibson

Music: David Lang Cheating, Lying, Stealing (2008). Evan Ziporyn & Real Quiet. Naxos records  

Project Director: Lisa Risdale (Two Thirds Sky)

Lighting: Gareth Risdale

Costume: Libby Gesikowski

Essential Alston: Katie Vernon-Smith

Creative Learning, Royal and Derngate: Trudy Bell

“…I just wanted to pass on our huge thanks for allowing Elsie to be a part of this incredible project. Everything about it was positive, challenging and inspiring for Elsie and the others. She has never experienced team work on this level before, where the piece is the most important thing, where ideas are welcomed and tried, where each dancer is encouraged to build on their own unique qualities rather than all trying to be the same…”

- Alston Inspired Parent

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