DANCE / The goodtime girl: Judith Mackrell reviews Don Quixote at Covent Garden and Antic at Sadler's Wells

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The Independent Culture
THE Royal Ballet's new Don Quixote may be a simple frolic of a ballet, but it's substantial enough for different dancers to stake their own interpretations. On Wednesday night, Fiona Chadwick gave us a much larkier Kitri than Viviana Durante's. Though she pushed for nearly as much fire and crackle in the choreography, the general impression was of a goodtime girl intoxicated by her own high spirits. This Kitri also seemed intoxicated by her own erotic power. Though Chadwick didn't act sex and, in this most Latin of ballets, had her own very English physicality to contend with, she exploited every insinuation in the music and every languorous swoon in the choreography to suggest that Kitri was desperate to get into the marriage bed.

Stuart Cassidy as her lover Basilio made it easy to see why. Though he fudged the occasional technical stunt, he danced with a clean power and looked exactly as an impoverished suitor should - his romantic ardour toughened by a hint of rough trade. Like Chadwick he convinced you that this ballet was just a delightful diversion - rather than one of the repertoire's most draining and exposing showpieces.

On Wednesday night the two lovers were thwarted, abetted and naughtily upstaged by Ashley Page as a blissfully camp and testy Gamache. Swollen with pride, he flounced and arched his eyebrows so affrontedly that they all but disappeared down the back of his head - a lovely piece of comic dancing that sent the ballet's spirits rocketing.

Don Q's plot is so minimal that you'd have to be simple, or asleep, to miss the story. Kim Brandstrup's Antic on the other hand - 'a personal response to Hamlet' - is all nuance and allusion. Many choreographers have had a go at the play and many have wrenched it into an expressionist psychodrama. Brandstrup's treatment is far more restrained, a visual plotting of the play's atmospheric tensions that works through subtleties of gesture, the rhythms of its dance phrases and the grouping of the 10 performers on stage.

In his works for Arc Dance Company, Brandstrup has established himself as an intelligent, resourceful dance narrator. Antic, performed at Sadler's Wells, is no exception as, detail by detail, it builds a choreographic parallel to the play's text. Hamlet's encounter with his dead father, for instance, is genuinely creepy, Jeremy James's small and wiry Hamlet is lifted around by David Scinto's almost unnaturally tall Ghost and the latter's physical authority - bespeaking both paternal love and supernatural strength - enables Brandstrup to convey exactly Hamlet's burden of filial duty and horror.

Mark Ashman as Claudius has an equally impressive physical presence. Brandstrup adroitly captures the latter's charm and cunning in the way Claudius partners Gertrude and Ophelia. He manipulates their bodies with deadly ease, then settles them back in their chairs with a sinister precision. But despite Brandstrup's narrative ingenuity, the piece fails to move. What's missing is an over-arching dramatic rhythm and a variation in the charge of each scene. Somehow the piece doesn't add up to more that the sum of its scrupulous parts. Underlying the problem is the monotonous surface of Ian Dearden's score that blurs the variety of the action. But there is also Brandstrup's failure to modulate the pitch of his characterisations. Hamlet may be on stage more than anyone else, yet his dance language is no richer. For all its deftness Brandstrup's Antic is a drama without a hero, a Hamlet without a tragic Prince.