Dance: Clueless but pretty with it

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The Independent Culture
DON JUAN

SADLER'S WELLS

LONDON

THERE CAN be few men able to roll their eyes more fetchingly than Irek Mukhamedov, or stroll more sinuously across the boards. So Don Juan would seem a natural role for him, and his enormous following of fans will doubtless enjoy every moment he is on stage in Kim Brandstrup's new ballet - which is almost all the time.

Whether the show does justice to its star or its subject is another matter. The full title is The Return of Don Juan, and it is supposed to be about the Devil sending Hell's most famous libertine back to earth to join a film studio where he must overcome the scruples of a girl whose virtue the archfiend finds offensive (what, only one in Juan's four centuries down below?).

Well, Juan blows it by getting all sentimental about the girl, and is only saved when Leporello, his servant, persuades her to pretend that she has succumbed. Not much of a plot, but you need the programme notes to understand it as Brandstrup has never been much good at telling stories. There were suggestions apropos of last week's Midsummer Night's Dream that Balanchine was not skilled in narrative, but his ballet was a model of lucidity compared with Brandstrup's.

I spent a long time wondering, for instance, how we were supposed to know that the heroine (Genevieve Byrne) was such a paragon of virtue, apart from her formally shaking hands with Juan. Then I realised that the clue was her friendship with a wimp who was all teeth and horn-rimmed glasses. Plausibility is not much in evidence here: can you believe film stars who get abandoned by crew and cast the moment their scene is over?

Anyway, the film set does allow the designer Craig Givens to provide, for one scene, some of the exceptionally pretty costumes on which Brandstrup's work has generally relied. For much of the time, though, the dancers are more drably apparelled, even in Hell, although Kenneth Tharp makes a personable Devil in his dark suit, red tie and trailing black tail.

As for the music, composed by Kim Helweg and played by a small ensemble under Matthew Rowe, its solid rhythms are not much more animated than Brandstrup's earlier electronic scores.

So what does all this do for Mukhamedov? Well, it allows him to flutter his three-cornered hat and eyelashes, gaze meaningfully around when there's not much meaning about, and even occasionally dance a simple step or two. It might remind the Royal Ballet, who decided they didn't need or couldn't afford him, that he still has a heartthrob appeal not much seen in their programmes lately. Meanwhile, Covent Garden's loss is Brandstrup's gain - and how.

Final show tonight, 0171-863 8000. A national tour includes the Wimbledon Theatre, 13-15 April, 0181-540 0632

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