Dance: Coming back for seconds

Dance Bites, Royal Ballet - The Orchard, Dartford
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As soon as the curtain goes up on Duo Concertant, you begin to realise what so astounded Balanchine's contemporaries, when Peter Martins and Kay Mazzo first performed it as part of New York City Ballet's Stravinsky Festival in 1972. The work opens with Viviana Durante and Bruce Sansom quietly lodged by a grand piano while pianist and violinist play the entire Cantilene. Durante and Sansom aren't just waiting for a cue: they seem to be absorbing the structures and rhythms of the music. And when th ey do decide to dance, their movements look both prescribed and spontaneous, as if they were putting in practice the fragments of ideas that occurred to them during those phases of relaxed but intense contemplation.

There's nothing radical about Balanchine's choreographic structures here and, by the end, Duo Concertant is revealed as another of his woman-on-a-pedestal ballets. But you not only wonder how Balanchine manages to get away with that initial step-in / step-out pattern, you are left marvelling at how completely riveting he makes it.

That kind of mastery is, unsurprisingly, absent from most of the remaining works on the programme. Of course, Ashley Page, William Tuckett and Matthew Hart are significantly younger than Balanchine was when he created Duo Concertant (in his late sixties). But Page and Tuckett can no longer be called novice choreographers, and Tuckett hasn't produced anything of note in years. Even Page, whose Fearful Symmetries marked a real breakthrough, merely lapses into recidivism with his latest, Two or Three Dialogues, which pairs Ann De Vos and William Trevitt (both clad in electric-blue bodystockings and geometric PVC over garments) in a duet which, in its thrashing limbs and brutal entwinings, recalls his early forays into fractured classicism.

Tuckett's All Things Considered, (Leire Ortueta, doodling around to the pleasant strains of "Lover Man") served as little more than an aperitif to Ashton's Thais Pas Deux (shakily performed by Leanne Benjamin and Michael Nunn) and to Tuckett's second piece of the evening, the revival of his gently absorbing A Shropshire Lad. Even its pastoral, Laura Ashley overtones looked less outdated than the 1980s retro of Page's work.

Matthew Hart's Solo also dates from the start of his career, which in this case means only a couple of years ago. Danced by Ricardo Cervera to the third movement of Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8, Solo digs into the music's folksy motifs and plangentdynamics to eloquent but occasionally cliched effect.

It seems a shame that Balanchine's name is the only addition to the list of choreographers whose work made up last year's programme. "Dance Bites" should be more than just an out-of-town showcase for Tuckett, Page and Hart, and hopefully by next January it can replace William Forsythe's Herman Schmerman - which it now treats as a lazily predictable, crowd- pleasing finale.

n At the Orchard tonight; Cambridge Corn Exchange, 28 Jan; Haymarket, Leics, 30, 31 Jan and Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 2, 4 Feb Sophie Constanti

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