DANCE / Some animals are more equal: Triple Bill - Royal Ballet

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Different stages, different casts: sometimes new performance conditions can alter your perceptions of a ballet so strongly, it's as if you're seeing different steps. I first saw Ashley Page's Renard on the relatively small stage of the Cambridge Corn Exchange where the dancers barely had room to move around Bruce McLean's enormous set. At the Opera House, McLean's elegant, industrial hen-coop remains the shocking focus of the work, providing platforms and runways for the sparring animal characters as well as a cage for the four singers. Behind it, a sky of lowering, lurid purple and orange dominates the stage. Yet there's also space and air for the dancers to build up real power and speed.

So, what looked like a cartoon sketch in Cambridge now has much darker and more dangerous elements. Following Stravinsky's score, Page makes an abstract of the story - he doesn't 'animalise' his characters beyond a few gestural touches, he doesn't wring dramatic juice from the action. But the movement's taut muscularity and its startlingly erratic rhythms - given room to breathe - lend a brutal menace to the Goat and Cat who guard the hen-coop; they emphasise the Fox's impatient wiles and bring out a surprisingly twittering malevolence in the hens. On first seeing Renard, I thought it lacked emotional violence - I wanted, particularly, to be assaulted by the Fox's death. But in the Opera House, where the balance between dance music and design is equalised, it feels right that the choreography doesn't force the action. The drama is all in the enthralling and sophisticated interplay of theatrical forces.

On Tuesday, it was danced by the same admirable quartet, Jonathan Cope, Jonathan Howells, Matthew Trent and Gary Avis.

David Bintley's Tombeaux, though, was led by a cast new to me - Adam Cooper and Deborah Bull. The ballet was originally made on a shorter, less powerfully-built couple and the differences were revealing. At moments it seemed that Bull's long body could only just get tucked around Cooper's shoulders. But Tombeaux's choreography contains exquisite notes where the dancers' heads and shoulders dip in and out of the music; on more powerful bodies these become charged with a luxuriant weight and rhythmic force, sparking an intriguing frisson of combativeness and sensuality, between them.

The balance of Ashton's A Month in the Country also shifted on Tuesday, with a leading pair who seemed younger and more vulnerable than usual. Bruce Sansom's riveting Beliaev was a man who had just discovered passion and didn't know how to handle it - his romantic charm snagged by raw, almost ugly shards of desire. Muriel Valtat, dancing Natalia Petrovna for the first time in London, displayed a few too many exaggerated mannerisms in her acting, yet there was a poignant stillness in her dancing where she seemed to be hypnotised by the new scary pulse of her emotions. Valtat's Natalia looked, at times, so abandoned and so exposed that she barely seemed older than her young Ward Vera (danced with marvellously tenacious desire by Sarah Wildor) and the ballet's ending, when she gazes bleakly out at passionless future, has rarely seemed so cruel.

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