Dance: Knickers to you, Mr Mozart

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THE ROYAL Opera House may have its finger firmly on the self-destruct button but its estranged sister, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, goes from strength to strength. David Bintley, the artistic director, always formulates triple bills that feed the dancers' appetite for new work while gratifying the public's demand for lively accessible shows.

Stanton Welch, a resident choreographer with Australian Ballet Theatre and son of the ballerina Marilyn Jones, got off to a good start by choosing Mozart's clarinet concerto (played by Emma Johnson). Unfortunately, it proved a bit too rich for his blood and, like many choreographers before him, he ended up scribbling rather inconsequentially on some very fine music. Welch's work last got an airing in Britain in 1992 when Australian Ballet danced Of Blessed Memory, his sugary love letter to his mother. Powder has the same fluency and energy, and many of the steps (particularly the flashier lifts) have an abandoned MacMillan-ish air to them, but there is still a lot of rather literal-minded Mickey-Mousing evident in his response to the score. Kandis Cook's architectural designs were elegant and restrained but the same could not be said of the costumes. The girls looked nice enough in droopy tulle skirts and satin brassieres but even the handsomest young men can look very unattractive capering about in their underpants. The newly promoted principal, Andrew Murphy, with the brooding good looks of a slightly spivvy Greek god, almost managed it but the rest of Bintley's fine squad of men looked as if their clothes had been nicked. Mozart deserves better than this.

And David Bintley deserves better than John Tavener. Tavener may have taken up residence in the classical Top 10 but even his most ardent admirers are unlikely to argue that the composer's pious output is dance music. The enormously popular Protecting Veil was selected by Bintley for the piece he wrote in honour of Dame Ninette de Valois's 100th birthday this June. Just as de Valois's Job used a sacred subject and a living composer (Vaughan Williams), so Bintley attempts to parallel in dance Tavener's life of the Virgin Mary. The deliberately iconic nature of the work gives rise to many tableaux worthy of the Sainsbury Wing, but the ritualistic, unvarying nature of the music militates against interesting dance. The 10 superb dancers treasure the steps and enact this garbled bit of biblical exegesis with passion and conviction, but at 45 minutes it soon outstays its welcome.

The audience, having eaten all its greens, was rewarded with Bintley's popular 1988 eco-ballet Still Life at the Penguin Cafe, which furnished a jolly finale. Bintley's search for choreographers has not been a total success but his programming is adventurous and reveals his determination to show off his dancers whose bodies seem to fizz with pleasure at the tasks he sets them.

Birmingham Hippodrome (0121-622 7486) at 2.30pm and 7.30pm today, then touring