Dance: Billboards RFH, London

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The Independent Culture
It must be hell in Chicago. How else can one account for the string of Stateside superlatives that adorn the publicity material for the Joffrey Ballet's Billboards? "Probably the sexiest work ever performed on the Civic Opera House stage." This paints a picture of the windy city as a cultural wasteland of unimaginable desolation.

Joffrey has an excellent pedigree. It was formed in 1956 and enjoyed a reputation for staging major revivals and creating new works. The need to pursue box-office has clearly led to a serious artistic and technical decline. Billboards, danced to music by Prince, was conceived in 1993 during a time of crisis. It has toured successfully ever since and has grossed millions, pulling Joffrey out of financial trouble.

Ballet dancers do not usually perform well to pop music. They lack the loose-limbed jazzy articulation of contemporary dancers and tend to look a little tight-arsed at the best of times - like watching your mother dance the twist. However, fine dancers and great choreographers can overcome these problems - Christopher Bruce's Rolling Stones Rooster suggests itself. Billboards's four choreographers are simply not in this league. Joffrey's women are about as sexy and spontaneous as a length of dental floss. Various men make rumpy-pumpy gestures with their hips and get on with their aerobics. The chaps cease their exertions and stand around looking butch in torn T-shirts: they look about as mean as mascara. Joffrey is an equal opportunities employer. Why else would they want the small, hefty young man with the looks and grace of a prop forward? One of the women lets her hair down and poses seductively with her tresses. No doubt this hair-mussing motif is intended to convey sensuality but it smacks of a choreographer who has run out of ideas for arms. The finale of Act 2 features Beatriz Rodriguez trolling around to Prince's anthem "Purple Rain" while a spotlight half-heartedly tracks her progress. Why Prince would allow a choreographer to scribble on his signature tune is beyond me. Prince dances better than this. Joe Cocker dances better than this.

The finale is "Willing and Able". We know it's sexy because she fondles his buttocks. He fondles her buttocks. Then he bites her foot. This must be what the Santa Monica Outlook meant when it remarked that the piece "pulsates with an extroverted sense of eroticism''. "Fight to get rid of a ticket," thundered the Independent.

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