The artists formerly known as ballet dancers

the Critics: DANCE

"What means this word Billboards?" queried my French guest at the Festival Hall, 20 minutes into the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago's rock ballet, Billboards. Um, how to explain. It's American for those huge adverts they have by the side of the road. "Ah voila," she came back. "That fits. It is saying two dimensions. It is saying popular. And it's saying it wants very much to sell something." Got it in three, Michele.

The story of Joffrey's venture into global pop culture could have been one of those rags-to-riches heart-warmers. Revered 40-year-old classical ballet company risks going to the wall for lack of interest in Aurore, Giselle & Co. Along comes The Artist Formerly Known as Prince to his first Joffrey gala, loves the show, rushes off home and re-mixes his greatest hits as a thank you. The Joffrey builds a ballet on them. Its fortunes revive.

So Aurore and Giselle return to the boards triumphant? Not in this story. Terrified of killing the golden goose, the company is now condemned to dance this trash till it drops. For trash it is from start to finish - of the emptiest, tinniest, most readily discardable kind.

As Prince's "Sometimes it Snows in April" sets up its virile disco thump, rhinestone-twinkly girls and boys get up on their toes and archly parade their wares. You thought ballet dancers were sissy? bellows Laura Dean's choreography - then get this. Pairs of girls pirouette prettily on pointe to meet each other then erupt in a raucous bump'n'grind routine. The boys launch an offensive of extreme balletic leaps and mid-air splits. Who can jump the highest, the furthest, the fastest? But if this is the ballet Olympics, no one deserves a medal. I've seen better.

As Prince (on tape) reaches his umpteenth climax, the dancers join hands to whoop their way through an Okey Cokey of high-school aerobics - Pan's People meet the Kids from Fame. The piece groans under a frenzy of false ecstasy, like a teenage party that's been allowed to go on too long. What it's trying to prove of course is that ballet can be fun, sassy and sexy. The tragedy is that American audiences apparently need this underlined in red. Dance-followers in Britain will know that there was more sex in Kenneth MacMillan's big toenail than there is in the whole of Las Vegas. Or, if we're talking rock-cred, then in Ashley Page's bit of rough in Fearful Symmetries set to John Adams ... or Christopher Bruce's Rooster that makes hay with the Rolling Stones. Billboards protests too much.

With appalling aptness the Laura Dean piece ends with the company falling flat on their faces. As indeed do the three other choreographers who contribute to this unholy hybrid - Charles Moulton, Margo Sappington and Peter Pucci. I hope we were meant to snigger at "I Want to Melt with U" - an erotic underworld in which a girl in a gold bra tickles a branding iron over the sensitive parts of various blokes in orange wigs while the chorus simulates urgent copulation.

But we were certainly meant to keep a straight face during "Purple Rain", a melodramatic solo in the mould of Pierrot Lunaire, even when the desperate clownette stepped out of her costume and got hoisted like a dead Christ onto the shoulders of a pack of hunky dudes. Dramatically slack, the piece was as empty as the dancer's discarded clothes and, frankly, I was embarrassed. If it's ballet you fancy, hie thee to a ballet. If it's an appropriate response to Prince's juicy lyrics, stick on a video of His Purple Highness himself.

Royal Festival Hall, SE1 (0171 960 4242), to Sun 8 Sept.

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Day In a Page

    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