Don Juan, serial womaniser, has been languishing in hell for 400 years when the devil decides to send him back to earth, to a film studio no less, where he must seduce and corrupt the last virtuous woman alive, co-star in a film about a certain 17th-century libertine. Juan botches the job by falling in love and is saved from the devil's wrath only when Leporello, his servant, persuades the girl to fake compliance. Trouble is, I can only be sure of this in retrospect after reading a synopsis. With Brandstrup's cinematic story-telling you need subtitles.
This is a shame because the stage pictures he creates are filled with deft, stylish movement stamped with a pleasing personal style. Set designer David Roger creates a seductively minimalist hell using a sweep of crimson curtain and a velvet daybed, on which we first meet the Don grappling with the endless stream of females he is doomed never to possess. For the film-shoot scenes Craig Givens comes up with the most gorgeous costuming you are ever likely to see: swishing frock coats, brocade stomachers and big gauzy skirts in wine-gum colours which glow alluringly under Tina MacHugh's lighting.
Kim Helweg's score, played live, ranges atmospherically over a range of styles from tinkly baroque to jitterbugging jive for the studio party. Yet, like all these fine contributions, it feels like an accompaniment to a main event that's somehow gone Awol. The true event here is Irek Mukhamedov. Foggy as the story is, his Juan blazes through it like a beacon. He prowls, he flirts, he sighs, conveying in one flick of a Levantine eyebrow more seductive intrigue than Brandstrup's muddled dance-action manages in an hour and a half. Even without one great solo to dance, there's no one alive who can match Mukhamedov for radiant masculinity, for gusto, and for sheer knee-weakening charm. And fans can't bank on seeing him at the Royal Ballet with any regularity in future. As of this season he is demoted to "guest". But it's my guess that even in the sketchy context of Brandstrup's show, his crowd-pulling qualities will be giving the Royal management pause for thought, if not regrets.
That company is on the road at present with its annual selection of Dance Bites - a platform originally conceived to give newish choreographers and less-than-top-rank soloists a turn in the limelight. But this hasn't always gone down well with audiences, who won't be fobbed off with a B- team. So it is that this year's tour offers a generous dollop of stars as well as a judicious seasoning of classics. A pity that in Cambridge unraked seating meant that half the audience missed everything that happened from the knees down.
But in William Tuckett's Love's Fool this hardly mattered. It is a buoyant number about an office cupid who matchmakes between a manager and a girl in the typing pool, many of its jolliest routines are executed on chairs (a chorus line of word-processing fingers, the boss flicking specks from his suit). A pavement scene of whirling raincoats and pirouetting passers- by recalls Singin' in the Rain; the romantic climax is a blazing habanera. Zenaida Yanowsky is appealingly neat and quick as the shy girl, blossoming into Garboesque glamour when she gets her man. The catchy score by Karl Jenkins (of Adiemus fame) guarantees he'll be asked for more.
I didn't care much for Mark Baldwin's Towards Poetry - an apt title, for me it didn't come anywhere near - but it earned its place on the bill by spooling out legfuls of fairly conventional steps to flatter these dancers' terrific skills. Best was the revival of Ashton's 1965 Monotones, with its unfussy patternings of clean-limbed grace suggesting ancient Greece. It has Satie's limpid piano music too, and the most startling opening image of any ballet to date. Here it had to be Darcey Bussell who was winched up mast-like on to one toe, the other leg clasped vertically to her forehead, to be revolved slowly like a figure on a cake. Stunning.
`The Return of Don Juan': Wycombe Swan (01494 512000), 25 & 26 Mar. Dance Bites: Hall for Cornwall (01872 262466), Mon & Tues; Wycome Swan, (01494 512000), Fri & Sat; Liverpool Empire (0151 709 1555), 26 & 27 Mar.Reuse content