DANCE / Triple treat

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The Independent Culture
THEY'RE cooking their triple bills according to a new recipe at Covent Garden, and on Friday the guests left still licking their lips. The revised Royal Ballet menu is an overture, a new/light/ familiar piece, and finally a big number. This time there is George Balanchine's Ballet Imperial, David Bintley's 'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe and Kenneth MacMillan's Gloria.

Balanchine created Ballet Imperial in 1941 to prove to South Americans that North Americans can do classical ballet. The 18 curtain calls at the opening in Rio banished any scepticism. But doubts remain as to whether the English can do Balanchine.

The piece, using the vocabulary of Petipa in a plotless work, involves the corps de ballet in the technical demands of the dance - a first for Balanchine. The corps warmed to the exuberance of the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 2, but until then stifled Balanchine's muscularity with its peculiarly mannered style. Only the leads - Viviana Durante, Bruce Sansom, Darcey Bussell, Sara Gallie and Sarah Wildor - have the dash that earned the choreographer his reputation as a genius.

Ballet Imperial has come to be performed in leotards, but the Royal Ballet decided to recreate the tutus of the 1950 production, which look dated. Surely it's too soon to put Balanchine, dead only a decade, in the museum.

The reliable crowd-puller is Bintley's homage to extinct animals. 'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe is a light piece, even delightful, but not superficial. There is a message: one day the acid rain will fall on your head too. But that doesn't stop the Auk, the Ram, the Rat, the Flea and the Zebra dancing across the plains and fields in celebration of life.

MacMillan's Gloria, a tender and compassionate piece inspired by Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, easily fits the bill for the big number. Set to Poulenc with a choir, it laments the slaying of men in the First World War from the point of view of women, anguished at losing lovers, husbands, sons and brothers. Leanne Benjamin personifies that grief and yearning in steps that are still daring and audacious.

Would you take snow to Montreal? Then why bring Eurocrash to Europe? O Vertigo Danse brought La Chambre Blanche from Canada to The Place as part of the 'Turning World' festival of dance from abroad. They shouldn't have bothered - we've seen it all before.

As the title suggests, it is set in a white room, which looks more like a Victorian madhouse well past its heyday. The six women and four men, unoriginally garbed in white underwear and then black evening dress, stare into space. This is more trance than dance. When they eventually emerge from their collective coma, they spend over an hour banging into each other. The routine hardly varies: leap, catch, fall, amounting to nothing more than a Eurocrashing bore.

Triple bill, ROH, 071-240 1066, Tues and Thurs; 'Turning World', The Place, 071-387 0031, to 15 May.