DANE / Short on cash, but long on invention

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The Independent Culture
LONDON CITY BALLET is an embarrassment to the arts establishment. The company survives on love, not money, taking ballet to venues throughout England, Scotland and Wales despite being starved of cash by the Arts Council. It lives precariously off sponsorship and box-office receipts, cultivating its own audience - almost a quarter of those who go to ballet every year - proving there is a demand for classical ballet in the regions. For its commitment it receives a quarter of the funds allocated to the contemporary companies, which themselves could do with more as they struggle to find audiences.

The cash shortage has meant that LCB has only been able to afford second- rate choreography. But this year it has expanded its repertoire to include two of this century's finest, George Balanchine (Donizetti Variations) and Frederick Ashton (the skating ballet, Les Patineurs). As an experiment with dance-drama, it is performing Witchboy, not seen since 1976.

LCB is always a delight to watch. The company of 40 and guests brings an attack that gathers up banality and transforms it into exciting theatre. So it's rewarding to see how well the dancers fare when stretched by the masters - even though they never quite illuminate the purity of Balanchine's romantic phrasing or the delicacy of Ashton's. With Donizetti Variations, Balanchine engages the joie de vivre of the August Bournonville style and flavours it with several of his own eccentricities, such as leaps with a leg tucked under the body. The nine supporting soloists catch the jokes and clean lines, with Paul Thrussell bringing self-assurance to his solo and Eva Evdokimova broad moves to hers, even if she approaches it with the scepticism reserved for a pair of new shoes that need wearing in.

The company never looks back. Witchboy, with its twist over Barbara Allen's ostracism by the bigoted Smokey Mountain community for her liaison with the Witchboy, shows it has the talent to heighten the drama and bounce the narrative along. Kim Miller as Allen has the artistry to succeed in dance-drama, especially one requiring a strong central character.

The company's enjoyment of Les Patineurs is infectious: it loves wearing the dainty William Chappell designs - velvet copper jackets and sky-blue skirts, snowy swirls with navy military tops - and barely conceals its delight over the gliding, slipping, sliding. Jack Wyngaard, with his sparkling personality, is a natural for the solo, an emblem for a company that overcomes whatever difficulties Ashton packs into the piece with enthusiastic vitality.

Carousel was Kenneth MacMillan's last project: he died before completing it. A pas de deux for Billy Bigelow's 15-year- old daughter and her friend in the fairground is unmistakably MacMillan, and a tribute to his genius. Intensely dramatic, athletic, and daring, with the scorching sexuality of a Mayerling, the sequence ends audaciously with the boy throwing the girl horizontally in the air so that she spins twice before he catches her. The 10-minute interlude is a show- stopper, rapturously received by an audience that may never have seen MacMillan's work before but which quickly acquired a taste for his inventiveness. It is heartbreaking that he didn't live to enjoy the ecstasy.

LCB, Sadler's Wells (071-278 8916) to 2 Jan; 'Carousel', Lyttelton (071-928 2252).

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