Dance: City slickers

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The Independent Culture
AMERICAN BALLET dancers are different. They project to their big audience with a starry assurance that looks almost brash alongside the more self-contained style we are used to, but we don't often get a chance to make the comparison. American Ballet Theater last visited in 1990 and NYCB haven't been over since 1984 so the New York Ballet Stars' visit, featuring dancers from both companies, was particularly welcome.

The programme featured two Balanchine pieces and the works of three dancemakers who acknowledge his influence. All the dancers had a high-gloss finish: the women deathlessly soignee with sleek hair and diamond earrings, the male soloists juicy enough to slice up and hand round with horseradish.

Balanchine's 1928 masterpiece Apollo was led by Peter Boal, whose heroic physique and clean technique made him a good choice for the part, and he handled his three muses with great care and skill. One should be grateful for live music but Opus 20 (hidden away behind a scrim upstage) were rather rough with Stravinsky.

Thursday evening saw the world premier of Christopher Wheeldon's New Webern. Wheeldon, used to the stylistic parsimony of NYCB with its repertoire of setless, pure dance, is prepared to rely on music and bodies for his effects. His choice of music is not always inspired but at 24, he already produces assured and promising work. Ulysses Dove's Red Angels is equally frugal, relying simply on red unitards, black backcloths and dramatic lighting, plus the excellent live playing of Richard Einhorn's Maxwell's Demon by Mary Rowell on electric violin.

The dislocated, hyper-athletic choreography (which smelled faintly of William Forsythe) was not as good as they made it look and the effect was pretty corny and slightly vulgar. However, most audiences would be perfectly happy to watch Albert Evans and Peter Boal painting the kitchen ceiling.

Balanchine's Tchaikovsky pas de deux was last seen in London with Darcey Bussell and Igor Zelensky - a cracking performance that had Covent Garden vibrating with ecstatic applause.

Kelly Cass and Benjamin Millipied were not in this class, but Millipied produced some particularly neat high cabrioles. The small stage cramped their style slightly and this is not a piece to dance to taped music. Anything with these virtuoso tricks really needs an understanding conductor, not just a finger on the "play" button.

The finale was Christopher d'Amboise's enjoyable Circle of Fifths, danced to Philip Glass's 1987 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. The witty and strange piece featured Peter forever carving the air around Wendy Whelan with his sculpting hands as if trying to cut her free from the space she occupies. The signature move was a bizarre, flex-footed jump that made the 11 dancers look as if they were playing with invisible pogo sticks.

It's always nice to eat someone else's cooking for a change, but a glimpse of New York is a thrill as well as a novelty. Antonia Franceschi's well-chosen dancers and clever programme was a good example of how to mount an exciting small-scale tour on a modest budget: other directors could profit by her example.

Louise Levene