Dance: Royal wells of talent

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The Independent Culture
IN TRANSFERRING to Islington for a three-week season, the Royal Ballet has made a journey back in history. It began its life on the same site 67 years ago, in the old Sadler's Wells, where it became the Sadler's Wells Ballet. Now, in the reincarnated and reopened theatre, the Royal Ballet is in danger of ending its life.

That was the message of the Equity leaflets being distributed at Tuesday's opening mixed programme. Unless the dancers agree to less work and lower pay, the company could be closed in January, along with the Royal Opera.

Whichever side the ballet's own management is on, congratulations to them for the varied programmes at Sadler's Wells, where tickets, in line with the Sadler's Wells ethos, are affordable. Why then, on Tuesday, didn't they flaunt their new human weapon, the Cuban Carlos Acosta, who has been rousing American audiences to tremulous excitement? It's not as though the company is packed with male virtuosi, especially now that the flying Japanese Tetsuya Kumakawa has flown away. But the Royal Ballet camouflaged Acosta with a supporting role in William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

The most convincing performances came from the Forsythe veterans, Deborah Bull, Michael Nunn and Peter Abegglen. Bull was sensational, a perfect instrument for the recklessly beautiful off-kilter poses, verging on imbalance, and the lilting phrasing, where stealth lurches into a zipping flourish. But Acosta drew too much attention to his explosiveness and whizzing turns, as yet unable to sink himself into the unfamiliar angles.

Perhaps he would have looked better in Kenneth MacMillan's Concerto, whose bold Balanchinesque choreography refused to play pale relation to Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No 2 (under Andrea Quinn's dynamic baton). Three tit-bits from the Royal Ballet's small-scale Dance Bites tours made up the rest. Ashley Page's Room of Cooks is a ballet noir where the triangle of characters seems extremely sinister. William Tuckett's folksy Puirt- a-beul is jolly and winsome. The pas de deux from Cathy Marston's Words Apart shows partnering at its most tricksily inventive. Deborah Bull is like Plasticine; Jonathan Cope is heroic.

At the end she leaves him on the floor, all used up, and saunters off. Perhaps that's what the Royal Ballet should do to the Royal Opera House.

Nadine Meisner