DANCE / Tender, loving care: Judith Mackrell applauds the exuberant Miami City Ballet at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
As the grand glittering powerbase that is New York City Ballet goes into decline, squandering its Balanchine inheritance through poor schooling and lack of spirit, the young and plucky Miami City Ballet have stepped into the vacated spotlight. Edward Villella (an NYCB star in the Sixties) founded the company in 1985 to take care of the Balanchine ballets that once 'looked after' him. And in the clarity with which his dancers reveal the lineaments and details of every step, that care movingly shows.

Miami's first programme is the full- length plotless ballet Jewels. In Britain we've only seen the central Rubies, danced by the Royal Ballet, and at the beginning of the opening Emeralds I braced myself for disappointment. The gaudy costumes and spangled backdrop made it look like a gala ballet, and the initial ensemble seemed no more than off-the-bolt prettiness. But with the first of the women's solos Balanchine's trademark wit and inventiveness became apparent.

Set to music by Faure, Emeralds is his personal take on Romanticism. Like a great couturier returning to a historic period, Balanchine gives us the essence of an old style re-stated through idiosyncratic contemporary means. There's a delirious turning step where the woman's body is tilted ecstatically back to catch moonlight, which is made sharp and dangerous by a sudden angled flick of the leg. Folk steps from Giselle, arms that are bent into sylphs' wings or set rippling in a dream, are woven into jazzily accented phrases. The dancers make each surprise rhythm or slanted line so vivid it's as if we're seeing the steps newly minted, while at the same time sustaining the mood of reverie right through to the ballet's startling ending, where the stage clears to leave three men gazing out at some perplexingly elusive vision.

In Rubies, Balanchine milks Stravinsky's Capriccio for all its urban brashness and provocation. Dancers may be tempted to act, rather than dance, the wit and depravity of the movement, but it's the accents of the steps that make you laugh out loud or wriggle in your seat. As a woman plunges suddenly into a deep plie, the downward thrust of her groin is indecent, while the surprise knifing of a toe against the floor is an open threat. Myrna Kamara is a scary solo ballerina, her luscious limbs moving with the lethal power of a chainsaw about to spring apart. Maribel Modrono is all cat-like depravity, partnered by Marin Boieru, who darts around the stage with demonic, joyful energy.

Diamonds, set to Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony, closes the work in grand Classical style. Though there are heart-stopping moments - a ballerina being promenaded in arabesque with her torso hanging rapturously backwards - the choreography is far less intense and needs to be irradiated by a greater glamour than either of the two principals can bring. But the whole company performs with limpid intelligence and passion and, in the final sequence (the betrothal celebrations of Sleeping Beauty revisited), they convey such an excited sense of ceremony you'd think they were dancing at their own weddings.

'Jewels': last performance tonight. Edinburgh Playhouse (031-225 5756)