Dance: Old stager cuts a fine dash

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The Independent Culture
INDEFATIGABLE IS not usually meant as a compliment. It suggests the critic's distaste for someone trying too hard to please; usually someone who's been at it rather longer than anyone cares to remember. Wayne Sleep is indefatigable. But in a nice way.

He was 50 this year. Standing still, he looks his age but, once in motion, he looks like a 12-year-old about to win a pirouetting competition. His height, and his correspondingly low centre of gravity, have always made him a whizz at such trick steps, and their speed and power seems undiminished. His latest show, Dash, is a 17-part running buffet of dance ranging from Ashton, Adam and Petipa to Wilson, Keppel and Betty from the golden age of music hall.

There is plenty of variety, but the short pieces flow smoothly into each other and Sleep's theatrical intelligence makes sure that our interest never flags. The audience (which appeared to be one huge girls' night out) thoroughly enjoyed itself.

Sleep paces himself with care, but still manages to be on the stage for much of the rather long evening. He has assembled a scratch company of dancers from English National Ballet and Northern Ballet Theatre, plus Melissa Wishinski and Timothy Melady from the Hartford Ballet in Connecticut. Wishinski was of particular interest as she will be joining the Royal Ballet next season at the unusually young age of 16. Extremely pretty and impressively self-assured, she tackled a modified version of the pas de deux from Don Quixote with nerves of steel, and her balances were superb. However, she will need a lot of looking after if she is to realise her potential.

The real classical stars of the evening were the Estonian couple Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks, who had been beamed in from Planet Ballet with exquisite accounts of the pas de deux from Giselle Act II and Sleeping Beauty Act III. Edur doesn't just move beautifully; he stands still with such elegance, distilling the grandeur of classical ballet into a single splendid attitude.

Sleep had choreographed eight of the pieces himself. Several began life as pieces d'occasion, but Sleep obviously can't abide waste and has taken to wheeling them out again when the occasion has passed. Savoy Suite, a Gilbert and Sullivan ballet that was written for the reopening of the Savoy Theatre, looks nice enough, but his famous Tribute to Diana, created for a Royal Academy of Dancing gala last winter, has worn less well. The short piece is a reprise of the duet he once danced with the Princess of Wales at Covent Garden in 1985. Now he dances alone, smiling up at an invisible partner in front of a huge still of the original duet.

It's glutinously sentimental and achieves its effects cheaply by tapping into the audience's existing feelings rather than generating any of its own. But it's very sad, just the same, to be reminded of that big, beautiful girl blithely dancing.

London Coliseum, to 8 August (0171-632 8300)