Dance: Old but bold

Moments That Made The Year: Veterans such as Mikhail Baryshnikov (right) and revived classics were the class of '96. By Louise Levene
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The Independent Culture
The Royal Ballet's first new work for 1996 was Matthew Hart's Dances with Death, in which the HIV virus (Darcey Bussell in lipstick red) attacked the white corpuscles. The company also mined its repertoire with mixed results: a revival of Kenneth MacMillan's house-party rape drama The Invitation, coached by Lynn Seymour, was very welcome; the exhumation of his interminable three-act version of Anastasia, however, was less successful, despite giving both Viviana Durante and Sarah Wildor a chance to get their teeth into another of Seymour's most famous roles.

David Bintley was already doing good work as the new artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Bintley created his hyper-extended barn-dance Far from the Madding Crowd with one eye firmly on the box-office but the company staged a number of strong revivals including Jerome Robbins's 1951 tale of misandry and castration, The Cage. Birmingham also premiered Bintley's Nutcracker Sweeties, danced to Duke Ellington's Tchaikovsky homage and dressed to kill by Jasper Conran in tutus encrusted with Smarties and coffee beans.

Revamped classics were popular. Matthew Bourne's Adventures in Motion Pictures toured the country with Swan Lake before settling in for a record- breaking run at London's Piccadilly Theatre, where they were joined by Lynn Seymour, making a comeback as Siegfried's dysfunctional nymphomaniac mother.

It was a good year for veterans. Mikhail Baryshnikov packed the London Coliseum for a week in August with worshippers willing to watch any amount of humdrum padding so long as Misha was dancing in between.

Other dance phenomena also played to packed houses but with less critical success. Michael Flatley, the former Riverdancer, toured the land with his modestly entitled Lord of the Dance, a farrago of Celtic codswallop that showcased his incessant jigging. The paying public's unhealthy appetite for engorged egos in tight trousers was again demonstrated when the obscenely hyped Joaqun Cortes performed a travesty of flamenco in a candle-lit Albert Hall. Only his foxy old uncle Christobal Reyes gave any indication of the true percussive power of the art

More welcome visitors were Antonio Gades, who brought the stage version of Carmen; Tango por Dos, with some more sinuous-limbed cabaret from Buenos Aires; and the Kirov Ballet with The Nutcracker. The Edinburgh Festival's commitment to dance was proved yet again with the annual visit by Mark Morris, Pina Bausch's magnetic Iphigenie auf Tauris and a long-overdue visit from the Martha Graham Dance Company, which brought an illuminating selection of influential Graham works from the Thirties and Forties.

Other imports were decidedly substandard: Les Grands Ballets Canadiens bored Sadler's Wells with its poor technique and feeble choreography and Joffrey Ballet's Prince extravaganza Billboards may well have dragged the company finances into the black but has also dragged its fine reputation into the mire.

Contemporary choreography was far better served by the home grown Siobhan Davies, the Jean Muir of British dance, whose interrelated works Trespass and Affections were the highlight of the 1996 Dance Umbrella Festival of modern work and a fitting celebration of her newly-acquired pounds 50,000 Prudential Award.