Arts: Cold encounters

Not even Christopher Dean's ballet debut scores a six in the latest very mixed bill from the ENB. By Louise Levene

Buttocks fidget uneasily as a young lady in black steps out from behind the curtain to make An Announcement. Matthew Hart's new work for the English National Ballet has been cancelled. Again. Its Cambridge premiere in May was called off because it wasn't finished in time and now an injury to Roman Rykin means that the 23-year-old choreographer will have to wait at least a year to see his Second World War ballet on stage. Instead we were treated to Patrick Lewis's Unrequited Moments, a short work for two couples danced to William Walton's Sinfonia Concertante for Piano and Orchestra. One of the girls (Lisa Pavane) develops a passion for the other girl's chap and keeps cutting in on their dances. Her unwilling object (Greg Horsman) shuns her advances, she has an abrupt change of heart and goes back to her longsuffering boyfriend. The reconciliation is inexplicable and the blissful concluding pas de deux seems an unlikely outcome after 20 minutes of throwing herself at his best friend. The choreography - a lot of clever lifts - shows Lewis's debt to MacMillan. Sadly for us, he didn't borrow heavily enough.

Artistic director Derek Deane's keen eye for the box- office led him to commission a ballet from the ice genius Christopher Dean. The result was Encounters, a loosely autobiographical piece danced to a handful of Paul Simon songs which illustrate his two marriages, his relationship with his mother and his professional partnership with whatshername. Dean's character is danced by the Estonian heart-throb Thomas Edur (soon to leave ENB for Birmingham Royal Ballet). Edur's technique and his command of the stage lend the piece an interest that it would otherwise lack. The choreography is fluid and pleasing (if rather heavy on icy pirouettes) but the music, although pleasant enough on the car stereo, is too bland to inspire interesting dance. The absymal reproduction was no help - I can get higher fidelity in my sitting-room. Dean's first ballet, like a first novel, leans too heavily on autobiography and should perhaps have been left in a drawer, but he could well produce something more interesting when his creative impulses have defrosted a little.

The polished blandness of the first two works was dispelled by the finale, the grand pas from Petipa's Paquita in which Derek Deane gives a strenuous workout to the company he has battled so hard to improve. The well-drilled corps was bright and confident and the principals and soloists (notably Greg Horsman) enjoyed themselves hugely with the notoriously testing choreography. We'd all have enjoyed ourselves a lot more if the rest of the evening had been as lively.

n English National Ballet dance `Cinderella' at the Royal Festival Hall, London, SE1 to Sat. Booking: 0171-960 4242

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