DANCE / False move: Judith Mackrell on Wayne McGregor and the Royal Ballet in London

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Compared with some of the more monosyllabic exponents of New Dance fashion, Wayne McGregor's choreography in Labrax (at the Place) looks hyperactive. His dancers stride, jump and twirl around the stage, their torsos shudder and fold, there's hardly a joint left idle. But 80 minutes of dance at this pitch, coupled with Daniel Weaver's frenetic score, leaves you feeling dazed and a little alienated. It's hard to know whether the manic, dehumanised energy of the movement and its drivingly repetitive structure are making some point about themselves or whether this is simply the way McGregor likes to move.

If it's the latter, then he has some things to learn about how to structure dances. He seems genuinely interested in exploring the basic resources of dance, its lines, shapes and rhythms. He also has some ambitions towards composition - counterpointing movements, sculpting groups in space. And some of the movement looks fresh and alive, particularly on McGregor himself, who with his long attenuated limbs possesses a kind of strung-out elegance coupled with a peculiarly intense precision.

But he says all he has to say long before the 80 minutes are up. He doesn't develop or contrast his material's ideas. He doesn't make each move seem necessary. He doesn't have a clear enough statement to make to his audience. So what you see is often close to a very successful but ultimately rather narcissistic session of improvisation.

In successful performances of many of the great Ashton roles there's also some quality of improvisation - not a literal making up of movements, but a sense of dance discovering itself at moments of physical or emotional abandon. Titania, in The Dream, gets some of the most lavish choreography Ashton ever created, her movements rippling yet also propelled by a dangerous momentum.

Sarah Wildor, making her debut on Saturday afternoon at Covent Garden, took on the role with a passion unusual in so young a dancer. Tiny, elegant and musical, she stitched her way exquisitely through the choreography's fast, neat footwork; yet all of Titania's pride was in the feisty imperiousness and spikiness of certain moves and all of her sensuousness in the melting release of her back and the rapturous eddying of her arms. In the same programme, Wildor also danced Vera, the young girl in Ashton's Month in the Country, and here the intemperance of the movement was movingly geared to showing the impetuousness of a teenager, hungry for experience, and particularly for the love of Beliaev, the tutor.

Zoltan Solymosi's dangerously handsome looks made him the perfect Beliaev - you could sense all the women in the ballet just aching to stroke aside the dark hair flopping over his forehead. But he seemed too tall and too coltish for the neat detail of the choreography and he also stepped too far beyond the bounds of decorum in his acting. His Beliaev was too conscious of his beauty, just a touch too knowing to make you believe he could really love Natalia Petrovna. And his charm was not that of a 19th-century Russian tutor. When he came on to the stage, he radiated such an insolent, ballsy confidence that you felt you'd time-travelled from Turgenev's drawing-room to Dallas.

(Photograph omitted)