Just ticking over

DANCE Ballet Comunidad de Madrid Peacock Theatre, London

Victor Ullate's Ballet Comunidad de Madrid is making its British debut at the Peacock Theatre for the next fortnight with two triple bills of work. Ullate began his own dancing career with the great flamenco dancer Antonio and in the company of Maurice Bejart. He is now famous for producing fine dancers at his school in Madrid, an institution whose quality output has been snapped up by both American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opera Ballet.

There is no doubt that his company is a class act. Sleek beauties who can kick your hat off at a moment's notice are partnered by muscular young men whose high jumps land in breathtaking unison. They get a lot of practice at this. Ullate's choreography is nothing if not synchronised, indeed at times the only point to its reams of high extensions, nifty pirouettes and fleet jetes is their simultaneous delivery en masse. It's the choreographic equivalent of a computer screen-saver that keeps the dancers ticking over until someone finds them something worthwhile work to do.

Tuesday's mixed programme began with Ven Que Te Tiente (literally "Come, you will be tempted"), which opens with a young man in a little blue Norfolk jacket anxiously clutching a book. The ensemble enter and dance briefly in a stilted and artificial manner, only bursting into life when the observer has left to recordings of traditional songs by Carmen Linares. This is presumably intended to make the point that traditional dance loses its charm and spontaneity once intellectualised. The only problem with this is that Ullate's choreography, which tends to mask the individuality of his attractive dancers, is itself a little too clinical and inexpressive to sustain the argument.

Tras el Espejo (Behind the Mirror), a tribute to the flamenco star Carmen Amaya, features Rut Mir, who enters slowly from the wings wearing a white satin bata de cola. The audience begins to giggle as it realises that the traditional ruffles are nearly 40-feet long. She parades slowly and carefully in her mad dress, snaking her arms and arching her back before stepping out of her confining frills to reveal a snazzy body-stocking. Mir then proceeds to celebrate her new-found freedom in a sequence designed to display her extraordinary flexibility and dazzling jump. The contrast between the feline quality of this movement and the picturesque beauty of her earlier incarnation has something of La Chatte Metamorphosee en Femme about it. Mir's charm and talent are considerable but at times her gyrations, notably the graphic tilting of her pelvis to display the pert perfection of her jungle-patterned buttocks, were uncomfortably close to floorshow.

The final piece was Jaleos, which showcased the entire company in an exhilarating sub-Forsythian workout by women in sheer black bodysuits and toe shoes and an army of handsome bare-chested men. The women fouette frantically and the men leap and spin with boundless energy. Dance-goers are always happy to see beautiful, lithe dancers with flexible hip joints and good elevation performing with well-drilled precision, and the Peacock's audience was no exception. Ullate's reputation as a teacher is well deserved but, having generated such good dancers, he surely owes it to them either to craft or buy in some steps that allow them to express something more than their technique.

Peacock Theatre, London WC2 (0171-314 8800). To 3 May Louise Levene

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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