Richard Alston: “I wanted to be a zookeeper for a while and then decided to be Margot Fonteyn”

Renowned choreographer Richard Alston is celebrating his 50-year career in dance. During this time, he has created over 140 dance works, some of which will be presented alongside brand new pieces in Mid Century Modern at Sadler’s Wells this week. We spoke to Alston to discover more about the man behind some of the most influential dance pieces to be created over the last half century.

What dance production changed your life?
I decided on my career after a performance of Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, but earlier in 1965 at Covent Garden I was absolutely thunderstruck by Balanchine’s Agon and in particular by Susanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell dancing the extraordinary pas-de-deux – there isn’t a single duet I’ve ever made that doesn’t have some sort of resonance with Agon.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a zookeeper for a while and then decided to be Margot Fonteyn (I was an imaginatively ambitious child). My early childhood was spent in Paris and, after going to the circus, I really wanted to be a bareback rider – the one I’d seen was dressed in green as a cowboy. I ran home, got my green Cowboy hat out of the toy cupboard and jumped on and off a sofa until the springs were completely broken. My mother was livid.

Michael Clark performing in Alston’s piece Dutiful Ducks in 1982.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Most importantly Balanchine – and I’d ask him to cook! Merce Cunningham and John Cage (they loved Russian food), Trisha Brown who always made me laugh so much. Oh and Stravinsky. A provocative mix but a good one, I think.

Who would play you in a film of your life?
Gregory Peck or Henry Fonda were tall enough and both elegant. Much better looking but hey.

Who is your dance icon?
Still Margot Fonteyn, the most musical dancer I ever saw. Another choice would be Fred Astaire definitely. Am I allowed two?

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
A magical way of conjuring up food and shelter for the homeless in London. I get very distressed especially at this time of year.

Do you have any regrets during your 50 year career in dance?
I always regret that I’ve not been more strategic about things, but I’m not that sort of person so what’s the use of dreaming…

Elly Braund and Liam Riddick performing Alston’s newest piece, Carnaval

What three things would you take to a desert island with you?
A large bookcase full of books, a large cask of really good red wine, oh and a glass!

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I am unequivocally proud of the repertoire I gathered together at Rambert – Tudor, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Siobhan Davies they all gave or made wonderful pieces for us. Yes, I’m still proud when I think of that time.

Richard Alston Dance Company present Mid Century Modern at Sadler’s Wells on 23 & 24 March. Tickets are available now priced from £12 by calling our Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.