Dance Cinderella / Alice in Wonderland ENB, Coliseum, London

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The Independent Culture
The last time I saw Lisa Pavane and Greg Horsman dancing together was when they replaced another husband-and-wife team during the second half of a performance of Swan Lake. Both were suffering jet lag after a long-haul flight and were trying to unwind when English National Ballet's distress call came. Half an hour later, they were on stage. Pavane had taken a sleeping pill and Horsman had been drinking - not that you'd have guessed it from the way they danced that evening.

Now, in Michael Corder's new production of Cinderella, part of ENB's current season at the Coliseum, Pavane and Horsman are as reliably good as you'd expect, had you seen them performing under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In fact, in its steady, accomplished ease, their dancing has a strange, and not unsatisfying, bland perfection at times. Some of Corder's choreography encourages this blandness - the ballet feels too drawn out and its dramatic force is occasionally smothered by steps. And yet you can't help feeling grateful for all those steps. Corder, Deane's contemporary, demonstrates a real gift for sustained musicality in movement. Not overly concerned with innovation, he finds adequate room for manoeuvre in the more traditional structures of ballet composition. Much of his phrasing, although characterised by busy footwork, has an admirable visual simplicity.

Without disturbing the aura of a grand ballet which he replicates so effectively, Corder also shows us that he can be astoundingly inventive. Each of his Four Seasons duets is a glittering gem - particularly that for the summer fairy and her cavalier, in which Rebecca Sewell and Robert Marshall swoon and dart through the serpentine course of some private idyll. Parvane, in the title role, and Horsman as her prince, demonstrate the reassuring stability of their dancing rather than any notable acting ability. Likewise, Cinderella's sisters and stepmother are believable but not always sufficiently persuasive. Corder seems more interested in finding ways in which the ballet's various characters and the excellent corps at his disposal can share the stage. Hence we see them crossing back and forth across each other's paths in gloriously ordered flurries of movement, or forming circular configurations which tie in with the cyclical nature of the seasons and the corresponding moon, stars and sun theme of the decor.

Admired and reviled in equal measure, Deane continues to sound off about the poor standard of training in British ballet schools, the need to look abroad when recruiting new dancers for ENB and the company's responsibility to entertain its public. His Alice in Wonderland, clearly designed with the latter policy in mind, is a box-office hit which strikes me as immune to profound critical consideration. Although not specifically intended for children, the hordes of Alice band-wearing little girls attending last week's matinee could be heard squealing with delight at the White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter et al. Like the Royal Ballet's Tales of Beatrix Potter, Alice will appeal to those adults who automatically regress at the sight of humans kitted out as animals. The score, Carl Davis's tinkerings with Tchaikovsky, isn't the musical heresy you fear, and Sue Blane's costumes - especially those for the "Garden of Living Flowers" scene and the square, playing-card tutus - are undeniably clever and picturesque. Deane's principal achievement is in how he has masterminded the resurgence of ENB as a main player in British ballet after its stagnation under his predecessor. In terms of choreography, however, it is not Deane but Corder who stands out as the company's saviour.

n Season ends 30 Mar. Booking: 0171-632 8300