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since the Alvin Ailey company last appeared in London, and while much of the modern dance world has, during this time, withdrawn into ironic or alienated reticence, this company brings a reminder that the form can be brash, bawdy and big.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
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London