Dance: Romeo in a blur

WE NEED a moratorium on performances of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Radio 3 seems to play bits of it about three times a day, although this programmatic music only makes sense in the theatre, and the stages of Britain are littered with ballet companies presenting innumerable versions.

Take English National Ballet, for instance. They already had two distinct productions of Romeo, which are among the four best of the 30 or so I have seen: Ashton's for the finest choreography, Nureyev's the most dramatic. Only the Lavrovsky and Cranko versions rival them. But not content, ENB has put on a third Romeo, and a third-rate one at that.

It's understandable that artistic director Derek Deane was obliged to cobble together a special production for the vast arena of the Albert Hall last year, but why adapt that for ordinary stages, as he has now done? I note, having studied the small print of the lavish programme, that the word "choreography" nowhere appears in connection with his contribution. That at least indicates a realistic modesty. There are steps in plenty, often too many of them at once, and much heavy histrionics, but choreography in the sense of imaginative, expressive and musically patterned dances? Forget it.

Deane's production of Romeo looks like a smudged copy of too many others, with the poor dancers milling around trying to make sense of the action. They are not helped by Roberta Guidi di Bagno's elaborate new decor, which overwhelms them with oversized painted figures, and infuriates with the fidgety gimmick of having the front curtain in seven vertical strips, showing sections of different tapestries, which go up and down during the scene changes. Howard Harrison's lighting puts disruptive shadows everywhere.

The performers do their best. The orchestra under Patrick Flynn's direction was in better form than it has been. Tamara Rojo again makes a sweetly passionate Juliet, just as at the Albert Hall, so good as to make me wish she were in a better production.

She has a new Romeo in Boris de Leeuw: no great shakes as an actor but eager enough, and an able, personable dancer with his slim legs and curly brown hair. Mercutio and Benvolio are not very sharply delineated by Deane, but Dmitri Gruzdyev and Ruben Martin jump about energetically. Some roles are oddly conceived: a shifty Lord Capulet, his wife over the top except where it matters, after Tybalt's death, and this latter looking like a refugee from Blackadder.