Dance: Can we feel the force? Not really

TOUR DE Force!, when English National Ballet splits into two travelling groups each spring, aims to be a bravura juggling turn. Audiences want ballet with all the tutu trimmings, and that is what Tour de Force! gives them, with extracts from the classics. They might not want recent pieces to "difficult" music, but they get a dose of that as well, so ballet can claim to be not quite dead on its feet. And if it all happens on diminutive stages not usually serviced by ballet, that is part of the plan: the ENB tape-measure busily calculating floor size against the span of chaine turns.

But if, as occurred at Swindon, the result looks embarrassingly minor, that is not part of the plan. ENB's director, Derek Deane, is right to believe that small-scale touring wins new audiences: the Wyvern Theatre was close to bursting. So why not treat your converts with the respect they deserve and make an announcement when the programme's printed order is switched? And why short-change them by omitting the solos from The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty pas de deux?

The Grand pas classique from Raymonda is a reckless choice, given it requires panache and elegance. Laurentiti Guinea moves his upper body smoothly, but his partner Lisa Pavane is a cast-iron technician who dances everything the same way. And what an ill-assorted collection for the piece's male pas de quatre. I had not realised it was a comedy before, until confronted with the clenched jaws of performers grimly aware they have to go on to the excruciating end, and a muddled unison in which one man was completely out of synch.

The group appearing at the Lyceum Theatre in Crewe was, thankfully, the A-team, even though most of the music here was taped. Instead of Raymonda we saw a carefully rehearsed Grand pas from Paquita, the central couple a real pleasure with Tamara Rojo's inflected phrasing and Nathan Coppen's stylish support. Young Jean Luc Burke revealed himself quite a find in the Corsaire pas de deux, owning a cleanly beautiful line and an attractively sculpted face.

Christopher Hampsor, ENB's resident young and fluent choreographer, premiered his latest piece, Concerto Grosso. Where his previous Country Garden, on the Swindon bill, is playful gambolling and gentle English sunlight, Concerto Grosso is sombre neo-classicism, full of declamatory poses and hectic lighting changes to fit the turbulent drama of Alfred Schnittke's Third Concerto Grosso. It's the kind of ballet which announces itself as plotless, but introduces a colony of mysterious and coldly assertive personages you would think twice about asking for a loan. It was also misplaced on the Crewe stage, the emphatic patterns and cascade of jetes aching for space.

But Daria Klimentova, ENB's most gifted ballerina, was the single woman among four handsome men. After she had stood alone, her precise and lissom contours silhouetted against the white backdrop in the ballet's final pose, you felt you had seen a particularly fine cast.

And after the curtain came down on the whole programme, you knew that other towns on its itinerary had a treat in store.

`Tour de Force!' continues until 10 April