Arts: Dance: Moonlit mystery and moustaches

HAROLD KING'S programme for the City Ballet of London's new autumn tour certainly makes the dancers work. From beginning to end they are kept moving all the time. And what is particularly gratifying, on the principle of virtue rewarded, is that the new work he commissioned for the occasion is by far the most satisfying part of the evening.

This features music by the gifted and eccentric English composer Lord Berners, whose output included ballets for Ashton and Balanchine. The present score brings together several of his colourful short pieces, including some that he put together for a puppet show which he called The Man with a Moustache, thus providing the new ballet with both its title and (so far as it has one) its theme.

Mike Baldwin is the choreographer, and has been bold enough to present his dancers in tights, tutus and toe-shoes: something rare nowadays even from the most classical ballet-makers, let alone one who, like Baldwin, made his own dancing career almost entirely in modern companies.

What he has done, in effect, is give the dancers the steps they are most comfortable with in sequences that show the whole cast of four couples dancing fluently and brightly, sometimes all together, often singly or in smaller groupings.

What gives the ballet its distinctive flavour is the way Baldwin manipulates them on or off stage, and the unusual phrasing of the dances. That, and the fact that at times one or more of the men, and the leading woman too, wear a moustache as promised in the title, usually combined with a bowler hat.

No explanation for this becomes apparent - it simply happens out of the blue, just as Andrew Flint Shipman's setting of a mysterious, dark moonlit garden suddenly dissolves into giant colourful flowers in bright sunlight.

These designs and the flatteringly handsome costumes are sheer delight.

The ballet could have played up its surrealist touches more strongly, and that would probably have overcome any feeling that it is running on longer than it ought.

However, the dancing is fine throughout. Laura Hussey and Bernat Pascual in the central roles, with (if I understand the programme rightly) Alison Croft and Dincer Solomon hardly less prominent, lead a cast who all look happy and in first-rate form.

If only I could be as enthusiastic about the rest of the show, but the sheer energy of the company in Sinfonietta Giocosa, banging away enthusiastically at Istvan Herezog's shamelessly formless choreography, ensured a warm reception for this puerile work's British premiere.

Neither the ballet nor its Martinu score lives up to the title.

Completing the bill was Balanchine's Donizetti Variations, a pretty showpiece that the dancers, led by Joanne De Souza and Vitali Malko, tackled bravely if not always really with enough virtuosity and finish.