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since the Alvin Ailey company last appeared in London, and while much of the modern dance world has, during this time, withdrawn into ironic or alienated reticence, this company brings a reminder that the form can be brash, bawdy and big.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
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice