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