DANCE Birmingham Royal Ballet: Mixed Bill: Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture
One can't help thinking that the tendency to exaggerate David Bintley's considerable achievements with the Birmingham Royal Ballet is not unrelated to the longstanding festering disappointment that many ballet- goers feel towards the Royal Ballet which has lately been so abysmally lacking in choreographic and artistic direction. If Anthony Dowell had bought in James Kudelka's Baiser de la Fee or mounted Far From the Madding Crowd, he would have been crucified but Bintley's errors of judgement or taste are indulgently forgiven as we applaud his commitment to new choreography and watch his steady progress with anxious pride.

This summer's visit to Covent Garden brings two mixed bills. The first opened on Monday and began with Oliver Hindle's Bright Young Things danced to George Gershwin's Concerto in F. The piece features 21 dancers and sets out to explore the brittle amorality of the prohibition era. Unhappily, Hindle doesn't take his exploration much further than the wardrobe (David Blight's unflattering cocktail frocks for the girls, black tie and flashy waistcoats for the boys). Couples swap partners but the whole party is hardly suggestive of the vacuous excesses of the interwar generation. The pairwork features an unnervingly large number of tricksy lifts that seem to serve no useful purpose. Joseph Cipolla's satanic glamour lends his duet with Monica Zamora a drama it does not in fact possess. He brings off the lifts with the deft calm of a great partner but flashy stuff like this belongs in an ice-dancing routine.

Sanctum, by the former Paul Taylor dancer Lila York, opens with Ravel's Piano concerto in G, which forms an unlikely alliance with two movements from Christopher Rouse's mechanical nightmare Phantasmata. Robert Parker's intricate solo to Ravel is interrupted by a horde of hyperactive imps clad in gunmetal lurex who symbolise the stresses of the machine age. Their flex-footed jumps and busy runs provide an easy shorthand for the hectic pace of modern life.

Parker finally escapes from this hell to an Elysian set-up in which dancers lounge bucolically, their bodies silhouetted in an everlasting sunset. The message (apparently inspired by Chaplin's Modern Times) is that technology is bad for the human spirit. A gentle enough sentiment but not a particularly profound or sophisticated one.

The evening concluded triumphantly with the deservedly beloved catwalk cavalcade Nutcracker Sweeties, deliciously dressed in Jasper Conran's sugar-beaded confections and danced to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's magical reworking of Tchaikovsky blasted from the pit by the excellent Echoes of Ellington ensemble. Bintley's choreography never loses its grip on the jazz idiom and although it is notoriously hard for ballet dancers to suppress their classical impulses, the company rise magnificently to the challenge and deliver the steps with sass and wit.

Further performances: Sat (mat), 17, 18 June. Booking: 0171-304 4000