Arts: Night of the living dead

Click to follow
CITY BALLET of London is a monument to the heroic survival instincts of its director, Harold King. Both now, and in his company's earlier incarnation as London City Ballet, he has devised programmes with a firm eye on the box office. Yet he has often maintained an artistic integrity, finding room for the fresh and interesting as well as the commercial. He has dusted down under-used works, found different readings of the classics and commissioned new pieces. Last year he invited the contemporary dance choreographer Mark Baldwin; this year, it's the young Christopher Hampson (formerly with English National Ballet) whose Canciones is part of CBL's Latin-themed touring programme Viva!.

After a hiccup over the performing rights of Manuel de Falla's music, Canciones comes to the stage with songs by Albeniz instead. The designer is handsome, all Mediterranean whites and ochres. The guest singer and flamenco dancer Rosario Serrano moves among two dancing couples. The choreography slides between ballet and flamenco, the men matching Serrano's stamps, the women stitching liquid classical steps on point. But the ballet collapses at its centre: Serrano's performance reveals a feeble voice and lightweight presence.

Where Hampson's conception is original, Robert North's 1984 Entre Dos Aguas, revised for CBL, is predictable and inoffensive. Five couples, two principals and a row of chairs participate in choreography that spins out pirouettes like a Magimix to the sounds of Simon Rogers and Paco de Lucia, and irons everything into a uniform blandness. Peter Ottevanger might be as mis-cast in his zapateado solo as Bambi playing El Cordobes, but in this ballet's context he actually becomes appropriate.

If going Latin is an effective way of attracting audiences, including Petipa's Don Quixote pas de deux is even better. This little item of classical fireworks demands dancing technique to match, but although Elisa Celis and Peter Ottevanger had good presentation and winning smiles, they will not count among this century's virtuosi. When Ottevanger's smile slipped before his big solo, we saw the face of a man who knew he was inexorably approaching his doom.

Performance was the trouble with the whole evening. Five Tangos, with Hans Van Manen's surfers of rigidly controlled geometries, should suggest dangerous passions swirling underneath. But the cast looked like fresh- faced ballet students without a dark thought in their unclouded minds. The ballet was reduced to empty posturing; the sharpness of phrasing was lost. Because of the dancing Viva! was a programme that was not such much alive as dormant.

Nadine Meisner

To Sat (0171-863 8222). A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper