The Guardian

You got the look

A change of clothes proves transformative in Canary Wharf’s al fresco dance fest, while Alvin Ailey’s season ends as it began, with dazzling grace

City Dancing Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Dancing City

Greenwich+Docklands international festival

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Sadler’s Wells, London EC1

Dance in the open air is something you come across on holiday abroad. British weather has traditionally put a dampener on it. It doesn’t seem so much fun in the rain. The recent heatwave gave

at Canary Wharf, a mini jamboree of movement within the Greenwich+Docklands international festival, a chance to thrive, and crowds duly gathered. Events included the French group Le grand jeté acrobatically moving around a giant Newton’s cradle in Valse à Newton, huge yellow balls swinging towards them as they flexed and bent, and Vivace, which featured a duo, also French, moving in hypnotic harmony to a variety of dance tracks.

There was a mixture of kathak and contemporary in You & Me, the slightly confusing story of a thwarted relationship from Amina Khayyam Dance, and Bouncing Narratives, an immersive performance in a shipping container from the Oslobased Iranian choreographer Roza Moshtaghi, in which two dancers jumped on a trampoline over the audience’s heads.

It’s hard to make much of an impact with this easily accessible type of dance; it relies on being engaging rather than profound. But Pan~// Catwalk, from the Dutch group Zwermers, managed to provoke thought by the simplest of means. Two performers, accompanied by a violinist, walk slowly up a catwalk, putting on different outfits from a heap of clothes piled beside them, twisting their hair into new styles as they go.

They begin in more or less unisex jeans, T-shirts and leotards. But as they progress, the ensembles become more elaborate until, finally, they look as if they’re modelling fantastical haute couture. The fairly obvious point is about fluidity and transformation, but it’s fascinating and rather beautiful. What they wear changes how you see the people in front of you. The one who looks most like a man has moments resplendent in skirts and heels; the most female, carries off leathers, furs and a warrior headdress. The performers reveal great accuracy, switching their look with deadpan skill and synchronicity, making a gentle point about identity while also offering the fun of a fashion show.

The season of

at Sadler’s Wells has been disrupted by illness; programmes haven’t been going ahead as planned. Yet the glorious virtuosity of the dancing means that each evening never disappoints. The dancers seem to have a unique ability to move forwards and backwards at the same time, movement flowing through their bodies with astonishing grace.

Dancing Spirit, choreographed by Ronald K Brown, is a tribute to their artistic director emerita Judith Jamison, in which Hannah Alissa Richardson, in swirling skirt and cutout sleeves, embodies Jamison’s signature combination of precision and abandon. The piece, for nine dancers, moves from stately shapes to swirling energy. The dancers, particularly Solomon Dumas, seem inexhaustible as they make the audience’s spirits rise.

In a Sentimental Mood is a darker duet by Jamar Roberts, former resident choreographer, now freelance. Here he takes a quote by James Baldwin as the inspiration for a mournful encounter between Khalia Campbell and James Gilmer, who seem to be lovers yet can find no resolution for their feelings. Her black outfit and his sense of distance made me wonder if he was meant to be dead; whatever its meaning, the steps are distinctive and powerful.