Arts: Palais de dance

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LET NOBODY say that we English don't take our pleasures seriously. Why else would two or three thousand of us go toddling off to Hampton Court to sit on uncomfortable wooden chairs in a courtyard of the historic palace of Hampton Court for an open-air evening with Darcey Bussell?

Only the giggly arrival of a colleague from another newspaper, with the revealing clink of a number of bottles as she set down her bag, made me realise that I had missed out on another of our traditional national pleasures: picnicking in the grounds before the show begins.

Still, many of us had the privilege of stretching our necks for even an obstructed view of the stage to remind us of the good old days at Covent Garden.

Our national ballerina had brought half a dozen chums, past and present members of the Royal Ballet, to fill out the programme, and it was jolly sporting of her to give the other two ladies arguably the best numbers of the whole show. The smiling blondeSarah Wildor had fun climbing out of, over, around and finally back into a grand piano with Matthew Hart in his comic little number Cry Baby Kreisler.

Pretty little Belinda Hattley came off even better, with the handsome Bruce Sansom to partner her in the big duet from The Nutcracker (but why leave out the solos?), and the dashing Adam Cooper to dance with in the heart-stopping finale of Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons.

I suppose it would have been too much, out in the wilds of south-west London, to risk bringing on real live birds for their appearance at the end, but luckily by that stage in the evening swarms of moths were busy invading the stage to act as stand-ins.

A pity that the whole show consisted of little bits and pieces: a short dance here, an extract from a longer ballet there. These concert programmes work best, I find, when there is at least one substantial ballet to give them body, and with slightly less than an hour of dancing (plus the usual pauses and delays) there would have been scope for this.

However, our heroine, gallantly on stage for about half the time, had given herself five contrasting items.

The first of them, a dance with Cooper to the "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen, was as insubstantial in choreography as it was in length, but it did show off her lightness as well as her long legs. It was Cooper, too, who persued her earnestly through Christopher Wheeldon's staging of the Ravel Pavane and who also tied himself in knots with her through the intricacies of the duet from Balanchine's Agon.

Her choice for a bit of razzle-dazzle was the Corsair pas de deux, which really needs a partner with more dash than Inaki Urlezaga. But she still had her entries in William Tuckett's finale to come, where to Michael Torke's thumping score she trumped her colleagues by having on the most chic of all the plain black costumes and the most glamorous upraised arms at the very end.

John Percival