DANCE Dances with Death, Royal Ballet, London Sophie Constanti winces at Matthew Hart's silly `Aids' ballet, laments a new duet by Ashley Page and is moved by the undying talent of Kenneth MacMillan

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Matthew Hart's new Dances with Death, tagged somewhat predictably (and not entirely accurately) "the Aids ballet", is a minor work on a major theme. As an emotive and political issue, Aids has already been treacherously hijacked by Bill T Jones in his Still Here, a dance project in which Jones seemed to suck at the very life-blood of the work's terminally ill participants.

Like Jones, Hart is canny enough to suggest that his ballet isn't specifically about Aids, never mind that movement, costumes and characterisation form a pictorial representation of HIV at work. Rather, asserts Hart, the subject of Aids is an inescapable aspect of any contemporary interpretation of a work focusing upon death.

Death, sudden or extended, is a time-honoured speciality on the ballet stage. That said, the actual cause of death, unless due to sword-fighting, shooting or falling off a cliff, is more difficult, often impossible, to articulate in dance or mime terms. Hart tries to overcome that problem by showing us disease not only as it affects his three central characters (Jonathan Cope, Adam Cooper and Belinda Hatley) who succumb to "the virus", but also from an internal perspective, whereby we see the precise moment of fatal infection. The result is a sort of ludicrously silly Star Wars of the immune system, with Hart's corps of busy white blood cells clustering around vampish Darcey Bussell, who, in this mock-up of biological components, is as much the indestructible Aids virus as the personification of death. In just half an hour, death has been made obscenely glamorous and Aids reduced to a lifestyle. Were it not for Vasko Vassilev's impassioned rendition of Britten's Violin Concerto, Dances with Death would qualify for an immediate mercy killing. I'd guess that Hart will go on to make better works.

Ashley Page, too, is capable of better than ...Now Languorous, Now Wild... a duet for Viviana Durante and Irek Mukhamedov, who circumnavigate each other in a sleek but prickly courtship dance to a selection of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies.

Kenneth MacMillan wasn't much older than Hart when, in 1960, he created The Invitation, a ballet which, as proved by this revival, is as shockingly powerful now as it must have been then. At an Edwardian house party, an adolescent girl (Leanne Benjamin) and her boy cousin (Stuart Cassidy) encounter a married couple (Mukhamedov and Genesia Rosato) whose relationship is fraught with tension and hostility. The girl flirts with the husband; the boy is intrigued by the wife. You see the youngsters' innocence being sapped away, but nothing prepares you for the brutality of the girl's rape or even for the gripping acrimony and residual violence in the duets between Mukhamedov and Rosato. It may not feature T-cells or Kaposi's sarcoma, but The Invitation is a work of far more pernicious, deadly force than Hart's ballet. Quite simply, MacMillan realised that ballet could handle psychology better than it could biology.

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