The triple bill is the theatrical equivalent of an each-way bet. You're bound to like one of them and you're unlikely to be bored. Nobody does better triple bills better than Birmingham Royal Ballet (below), thanks to Sir Peter Wright's undisputed geniusfor blending elements of narrative drama, light relief and new works by young choreographers. At Sadler's Wells next Tuesday and Wednesday, the company dances George Balanchine's 1929 masterpiece The Prodigal Son, John Cranko's Gilbert and Sulliv an cross-dressing extravaganza Pineapple Poll and Matthew Hart's Street. The latter has live harmonica accompaniment by Paul Jones. Thursday begins a short run of Ashton's popular pastoral pantomime La Fille Mal Gardee. Although modelled on a French ball et created by Dauberval in 1789, Ashton's 1960 version is steeped in English traditions with maypoles and Morris dancers. The art of pantomime has become rather devalued of late, but David Bintley, Sir Peter Wright's successor, is keen to stress its impo rtance: "Pantomime is still the single most popular art form in this country". But he's not talking Derek Hatton in Dick in the Wood here; Bintley is thinking of "Commedia dell'arte and all the Shakespearean pantomime - not a bunch of TV stars throwing c ustard pies at each other''. A true pantomime is a pleasing synthesis of humour and sentiment, and that can only be achieved with serious character acting: "BRB has never lost that sense of drama and character''.
La Fille Mal Gardee may contain elements of pantomime, but the dancing chickens and harvest festivities are given a stiff shot of Russian pyrotechnics and the pas de deux feature some extremely tricky one-armed lifts that would put any ice dancer to shame. This masterly mixture of high art and low comedy makes the ballet an almost embarrassingly suitable family outing, as there is something for everyone from the balletomane to the poultry fancier. Sadly, Bintley himself is not dancing these days. His slyly humorous renditions of the Royal Ballet's various drag queens were minor masterpieces. His Widow Simone was conceived from the Liberty bodice up: "Alec Guinness always talks about getting the walk first. The first thing I get is the smell."
Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells (071-278 8916)