DANCE / Physical kicks, spiritual highs: Judith Mackrell reviews Alvin Ailey at the Coliseum. Plus Romeo and Juliet

IT'S 17 years since the Alvin Ailey company last appeared in London, and while much of the modern dance world has, during this time, withdrawn into ironic or alienated reticence, this company brings a reminder that the form can be brash, bawdy and big. (There's a temptation to add bad - except that's hardly a quality exclusive to the Ailey company.)

The pure Ailey experience - the flamboyant physical high for which the company is famous - actually gets delivered in just one piece during their first programme, Ailey's own 1960 number Revelations. Set to a sequence of black spirituals, the dance is moving less for its communication of religious experience (the movement actually short-changes some of the music's spiritual charge), than for a sense of physical exhilaration that approaches the sacred. It's also a piece that puts black tradition successfully on to a big stage, for Ailey has here created his most effective alliance between classic modern dance and certain details and rhythms in black movement.

There's a fraught power of emotion in the bowed, shaking head of the supplicant, a plump vernacular robustness in the way a whole group of women shake their butts and wave their fans in a surge of collective religious optimism. And as the dancing barrels along on the pulse of the music, its energy is frequently irresistible - the manic spins and jumps to 'Sinner Man', the rippling walks to 'Wading In The Water', the proud strutting chorus that brings the work to its crowd-storming conclusion.

Despite its 30-odd years, this piece doesn't fade. There's hardly a shrug or extraneous movement in it and the dancers, for all their amazing showbizzy confidence, manage to sustain a spontaneously joyous edge. Watching Donald McKayle's District Storyville (1962), however, you feel caught in a depressing time-warp. The piece is set in a whorehouse in 1917 and in celebrating the early raunchy days of jazz it positively blushes with its own daring. Tarts strut their stuff, punters fondle and gloat and everyone does a lot of pumping, grinding, shimmying jazz dance to a score featuring numbers from Ellington, Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton.

The company is expertly sassy and milk the audience for conniving lustful grins, but the choreography itself is below-standard Broadway fare. McKayle has nothing to add to the well-worn cliches of the genre and each number follows arbitrarily after the next without establishing either tension or shape. You feel as if you are watching dance routines extracted from some absent musical - the whole threadbare affair calling out for the extra flesh of dialogue and song.

In Donald Byrd's Dance at the Gym (1991) a few contemporary changes are rung around the same mating theme. The movement comes in cool lines with some sharp robotic rhythms. The sex is meaner and hungrier, the participants' narcissism more overt. The stereotypes remain the same, though - competitive macho men, calculating women - only here they're unrelieved by any boisterousness or good humour. It's a piece not only nasty but interminable. As Mio Morales' music bleeps and chugs purposelessly onwards, the dancers meet for yet another bout of antagonistic sexual display. Byrd's choreography looks bad on the company. Best at juicy propulsive movement, these dancers don't have the focus and precision of line, the neurotic edge to bring off this kind of alienated urban choreography.

In contrast to the souped-up sex of Byrd and McKayle, Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House seems like a fairytale of innocent first love, its passions erotic but unselfconscious, its ecstasies straightforward rather than perverse. On Tuesday, Irek Mukhamedov made his debut as Romeo, paired (in what has now become an established partnership) with Viviana Durante. The performance held few surprises but was mostly enthralling for all that.

Mukhamedov played Romeo as a charming naive, incapable of measuring or stinting his emotion when he falls in love. Durante's Juliet is even greedier in her ardour - having seen and fallen for Romeo she bourrees round the stage in a blissful daze from which she publicly and almost comically has to shake herself. There are countless details of gesture and expression which these two have worked into the roles to make them their own. But what stands out is the total way in which they complement each other. Durante's technique has become both finer and more sumptuous yet she draws an extra substance from Mukhamedov's galvanising dramatic presence. Mukhamedov in turn has moments where both age, and a different training, tell in his movement. Yet his dancing and acting are so much of a piece and the detail of both so eloquently thought through that you hardly judge what he does as a performance - merely the motions of a man heroically and a little foolishly in love.

The Alvin Ailey company continues at the Coliseum (071 836 3161). The Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet continues at the Royal Opera House (071:240 1066).

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks