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Dance: Spring into actions

THERE IS nothing half hearted about the way David Bintley is implementing the promise he made on becoming director of Birmingham Royal Ballet four years ago - to make it the most creative ballet company in the country.

Another premiere by him - The Dance House - opened on Thursday, together with the first fully-fledged performance of The Four Seasons - a production by seven dancers within the Birmingham company.

The latter performance deserves to take priority for its unexpectedness. Although it began life last year simply as a project for would-be choreographers collaborating with students from the Theatre Design School at the University of Central England, the outcome has far transcended its origins.

Now that it has been taken into the regular repertory, this Four Seasons proves a sight more inventive, professionally-shaped and entertaining than any of the works made for the London Royal Ballet's recent Dance Bites Tours.

The Vivaldi music ensures immediate audience recognition - quite a factor in marketing - and also provides a strong melodic, rhythmic and powerful base for the dancing.

This holds the attention right from the sudden opening entries for "Spring" - choreography by Asier Uriagereka, and neatly echoed at the end in Yuri Zhukov's "Winter" choreography. Oliver Hindle's arrangement of "Summer" imaginatively likens the dancers to swimmers, and in "Autumn" an unexpected flicker of humour enlivens the swift moving sequences.

Mikaela Polley, Shimon Kalichman, Richard Whistler and Samira Saidi are the other choreographers - and I wish I had room to list all the excellent dancers, from top principles through to the most junior, because they all did themselves and their colleagues proud.

Praise to Stephanie McIntosh and Christina Neeves for their simple, elegant designs; the more so in contrasts to some of the ugliest costumes I ever saw, provided by Robert Heindel for The Dance House. That shortcoming apart, the production - BRB's re-staging of a work created for San Francisco ballet in 1995 - comes off well.

Inspired by memories of a friend and colleague dead, far to young, of Aids, Bintley has come up with an odd mixture: encounters set in a ballet studio, but interrupted by the surprisingly gentle figure of Death.

Setting the work to Shostakovich's bright, cheerful, sometimes almost flippant first piano concerto prevents it from becoming ghoulish - the mood is rather of accepting a journey we just all take at some time.

David Justin as Death is live and light, rather than with the conventional heaviness.

Justin's almost nonchalant ease and authority dominate without overpowering the other performers whose activities he disrupts - the innocence of Ambra Vallo; the romance of Monica Zamora and Wolfgang Stollwitzer; the liveliness of Dorcas Walters and Chi Cao.

Two contrasted groups of women make up the cast, all of whom are kept busy with demanding entries.

Good playing by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy reinforced the effect of both ballets, with the soloists coming from the company's own musicians - Robert Gibbs the violin for Vivaldi, Jonathan Higgins piano, and Mark Calder trumpet for Shostakovic.

John Percival