Alvin Ailey, Sadler's Wells, London, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Peacock, London

Half a century ahead of its time

There is nothing in Britain like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

It's not that black or mixed-race dance hasn't made it into the mainstream. It's that no dance of any kind has infiltrated the national consciousness the way Ailey's has, over the pond. For this is a dance company that's more than an institution, now celebrating its first half-century (the Mattel toy manufacturer has just brought out an Ailey Barbie doll to honour it). With its emotionally charged amalgam of ballet, Broadway and all-round athletic fabulousness, it's become the embodiment of an ideal, a purveyor of identity, and a national icon on a par with Mount Rushmore.



Launching an eight-venue UK tour, the first of two programmes at Sadler's Wells, as you'd expect, plays the heritage ticket, at least in part. George Faison's Suite Otis, from 1971, glories in the iron-filings-in-the-tonsils vocals of vintage Otis Redding. Girls in swirly skirts and snake hipped guys gyrate and twirl, beam and flirt as the hits roll out. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" is given to a chorus of stroppy females, who groom themselves for some coming encounter, then erupt in a froth of frustrated rage. A cute comedy duet has the couple glued cheek-to-cheek in connubial bliss, repeatedly blown apart by domestic spats, only to make it up in double- quick time for the cycle to begin again. It's fun, fast (speed is a speciality of this company), but ultimately limited. You begin to tire of seeing what appears to be the same combo of bum wriggle, turn and leap, repeated over and over. And the guys' raspberry-pink satin trews might have made more retro sense if they'd gone the whole hog with Afro wigs.



By contrast, what Ailey achieved in his own Revelations (1960), inspired by childhood memories of the Baptist Sunday services in his native Texas, is timeless. Strong, simple outlines – a phalanx of raised palms in "I Been 'Buked", the ecstatic, heavens-reaching balances in the duet "Fix Me Jesus" – sear into the imagination like a branding iron.

Once again, this being my eighth viewing, I looked hard for any hint of a pasted-on smile in the rollicking finale, "Rock My Soul (In the Bosom of Abraham)", but found none. The joy, it would seem, is genuine, and by the end, the audience is on its feet and roaring.



It'll be a brave director who breaks the tradition of signing off every show with this Ailey barnstormer – but Robert Battle may be that man. Next July he takes over from the towering Judith Jamison, Ailey's muse up to his death in 1989 and an inspirational figure in her own right. It's a hard act to follow, but the work Battle created for this programme bodes well. The Hunt is one for the boys: a ritualised stalk-and-fight scenario for six bare-chested men that sublimates its influence of African tribal dance with a whiff of distinctly urban threat.



The soundtrack from percussion group Les Tambours du Bronx sounds as if it's been bashed out on metal trashcans in a subway, and at times you find your own ribs reverberating with each thud. By the end the climaxes have piled on so thick and fast it's quite exhausting, yet kind of thrilling too. The other new work, Dancing Spirit, by Ronald K Brown, more freely acknowledging its Africanism, breezes through a compilation of Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis and Radiohead with rippled spines and splay-legged stomps, but suffers longueurs and meanders.



Not every item is a winner, then, but for glamour and gusto these dancers can't be beat. Don't miss them if they come to a theatre anywhere near you.



In terms of mould-breaking diversity, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, also based in New York (never mind the moniker), have not been far behind. The world has long been awash with wannabe ballerinas. But who knew there were so many with size 11 feet?



Yes, the Trocks, as they have come to be known, are male to a man, yet insist on performing ballets intended for a cast of wispy girls on pointe. A good deal of the Trocks' comedy derives from the sheer absurdity of masculine bulk balanced on a toe's width of blocked satin, but other aspects of ballet conformism are pointed up too. One of the Trocks wears glasses, another has a Cyrano nose, and another dwarfs her weedy partner, kindly giving him a bunk-up now and then.



Yet the intention is not to mock so much as delight in ballet's foibles and potential mishaps – the corps de ballet girl slugged into the wings by a stray arabesque, the charm malfunctions and pecking-order squabbles that have beset classical companies for 150 years.



New audiences lap up the slapstick, and the opening spiel in a cod-Russian accent which announces that "Natasha Notgudenov will not be appearing" (this segment is surely due for a few fresh jokes). Aficionados, meanwhile, relish the observations on performance practice. As well as being sharp physical comics, the Trocks have an in-depth knowledge of ballet history.



Me, I still laugh till I cry at pretty much all of it, but would make special mention of Brock Hayhoe's gormless danseur noble in ChopEniana (the Russian version, aka Les Sylphides, of which the Trocks dance every last step as written, however difficult), and Raffaele Morra's tremulous sylph, her delicate port de bras offset by an abundance of chest hair.



Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Sadler's Wells (0844 412 4300) to 25 Sep; then touring to Nottingham, Birmingham, Plymouth, Cardiff, Bradford, Edinburgh and Newcastle. Details: danceconsor tium.com. The Trocks: (0844 412 4322) to 25 Sep



Next week



Jenny Gilbert falls under the perfumed spell of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, in an exhibition at the V&A

Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

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.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home