Arts: Dance - Sleep never rusts

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The Independent Culture
ANY SHOW directed by Wayne Sleep comes with a guarantee of entertainment, and this one reveals his flair operating at a high level. Aspects of Dance stars the diminutive virtuoso and 10 good dancers from City Ballet of London; its two-month tour will take it from one end of the country to the other.

The programme itself is a kind of tour, too. About half of it is devoted to popular highlights of classical ballet, taking in tap, jazz, a touch of old-time music hall, and Sleep's affectionate burlesque of two well- known skating stars renowned for their Bolero. There is also a good dose of new choreography, notably Christopher Hampson's lively, demanding number for three men, and his sinuously exotic short ballet, Dinar Esade, set to 15th-century near-Eastern music.

You might ask whether Sleep, now 50, can still dance. He is chubbier than he was, and has sensibly given up tights in favour of dark trousers and an open necked shirt. Of course, he no longer has the tremendous stamina and springiness he used to enjoy. Yet there's still a lot of speed in his movements and an impressive facility in all sorts of turning steps. He can still pull off a flashy Tarantella as the show's climax, with two young women to pace him, one throwing in some showy fouettes, the other a series of lightly soaring grands jetes.

Besides, Sleep's star quality never depended on technique alone. There was - and is - the sheer delight in dance that he communicates, and a rare ability to present himself as being on the same wavelength as his audience. As compere, he neatly sets the numbers in context, conveying a lot of information without a hint of condescension.

I wish I could credit the individual contributions of all the dancers, but they are kept far too busy to make that possible. From the romantic Les Sylphides to the grand Sleeping Beauty, from Bourn-onville's Flower Festival to a sailors' dance by Michael Rolnick, from an evocation of Loie Fuller or Pavlova's `Dragon Fly' solo to Sleep's `Three Little Maids from School', they must spend almost as much energy changing costumes behind the scenes as they do on stage - and that's saying something.

Nothing is less than ably done, and some of it rather better than that. Aspects of Dance comes off very presentably in comparison with recent medium-scale tours by the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. Sleep and his contemporary Harold King, who directs City Ballet of London, can afford to feel a little smug, but are more likely to put their time to more profitable use planning their next ventures.

Tour continues until 31 July