Dance: Symmetries funereal, not fearful

International Celebration of Choreography Royal Opera House, London

The thinking behind the Royal Ballet's first full-evening programme in its new house was straightforward enough. A new beginning asks for new ballets. The company can't possibly afford to buy them in any quantity so why not rent some for a few nights? And while we're about it, why not bring on some dancers and choreographers that British dance-lovers don't normally get to see? Open up the field a bit. Show us little Englanders what we've been missing.

How such fine ideals could have led to Wednesday's leaden and joyless International Celebration is beyond me. The only thing this seven-part programme managed to prove is that foreign ballet companies have as much trouble finding challenging new choreography as we do. But are they really so conservative in Toronto that Glen Tetley's Tagore - whose gloopy pas de deux might serve better as a TV ad for shampoo or chocolates - counts as cutting-edge? Are they so easy to please in New York that Peter Martin's tame Barber Violin Concerto counts as sizzling stuff? Or did the Royal Ballet just pick a bunch of duds?

Whatever the qualities of individual works, it was surely a mistake to crowd four pas de deux into one evening. By the end, they had blurred into one. Only Lento, a duet made specially for this programme by Hamburg's John Neumeier, stood out in bright relief. Darcey Bussell in a red catsuit would be striking in any context, but here, partnered by Hamburg principal Otto Bubenicek, her astounding capacity for folding and unfolding that body and those limbs like origami was beautifully exploited.

Larger commissions from British choreographers topped and tailed the evening, but failed to take fire. First came A Stranger's Taste. The title says it all: Siobhan Davies is a foreigner to classical ballet (she once danced the part of a cabbage in a school concert, we're told) and here makes much of the language barrier between her own gravity-bound, intimate, detailed, modern-dance style and ballet's airier gestures. Sadly, she seems to have discovered that the two don't have much to say to each other. David Buckland's set, with its rows of silver propellers, was, I think, meant to remind spectators of the Stranger's territory, where slow-revolving blades have often insinuated their motion upon dancers below to suggest tropical heat, factory turbines, or air travel. In this piece, though, they were just funny-shaped helium balloons, distracting attention from the dancing as one wondered which propeller was going to start revolving next.

Davies had scribbled her name all over the Royal Ballet's dancers, and to their credit they coped well: the arms like JCB diggers, shaping the air like slabs of clay, switching suddenly to tiny, fiddly movement suggesting the fine-tuning of cello-strings. More expansive solo passages touched on some of ballet's fizzier possibilities - here a big leap, there a fancy triple-twizzle - but these only served to remind you of what Siobhan Davies isn't. Perhaps that was the point. But the whole work felt wrong and odd and small-scale when it should have been big. Only the music - juxtaposing 18th-century viol music with John Cage's works for a piano with bits of ironmongery lodged inside it - made for a truly strange and wondrous meeting.

Ashley Page's new work, Hidden Variables, was likewise not half as good as its score - a grand, sombre affair for full orchestra by Colin Matthews. It sounded fine, scaling mountain-range climaxes and coasting plains of minimalism. Briefly, it made a nod to John Adams - whose scores have powered Page's best ballets. But this one has neither the clarity nor the clout of his big hit Fearful Symmetries. Again, Page sets his men and women in moody opposition: arm wrestling, scowling, striking aggressive postures. Sexy black pointes and micro minis gave Laura Morera and Mara Galeazzi the air of man-eating spiders; Carlos Acosta carved up the airspace impressively. But no one felt like cheering its close. The sum total of applause during this ill-conceived evening registered as the weakest I've heard in this house. Celebration of International Choreography? It was more like a wake.

`International Choreography' (different combinations of work): 16 Dec, 20, 21 & 29 Jan, Royal Opera House (0171 304 4000)

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there