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since the Alvin Ailey company last appeared in London, and while much of the modern dance world has, during this time, withdrawn into ironic or alienated reticence, this company brings a reminder that the form can be brash, bawdy and big.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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone