Never mind the Boleros

DANCE

Cancelling a work between dress rehearsal and first night does not inspire confidence in a company showcasing at the Festival Hall. When English National Ballet announced on stage that, owing to injury, Matthew Hart's new ballet Blitz would not be part of its triple bill this week, the first reaction was sympathy for the 23-year-old choreographer, robbed of seeing his WW2 piece on stage yet again. (Its regional premiere last month didn't happen either.) But why no understudy? Following the ruthless campaign of artistic director Derek Deane to cut out dead wood and upgrade the corps with foreign talent, ENB is full of potential soloists. Ballet is fraught with risk and every production must have a Plan B. One injury seems like a lame excuse for bad planning.

In place of Blitz we had company member Patrick Lewis's Unrequited Moments, a short ballet for two couples that lived up to its yukky title. To a lush orchestral piece by Walton, Girl Number 1 (Lisa Pavane) goes cool on her man (Greg Horsman) until, seeing him happily grafted onto Girl 2, the tiresome hussy spends the rest of the ballet trying to get him back. This presents the choreographic conundrum of a pas de deux with the man as unwilling partner, Pavane forcing Horsman through the supporting motions, managing some brilliant mid-air swivels without his full compliance. But technical cleverness fails to lift the piece above the emotional level of a teen-mag photo-romance.

The programme change uncomfortably overlaps with the programme's published highlight, the first work for ballet by the ice-skater Christopher Dean. Encounters is also about romantic comings and goings, this time in scenes loosely based on Dean's life. For most of the audience the characters triggered instant recognition: step-mum, first wife, current wife, not forgetting the skating partner.

Just as debutant film-makers will string together a series of disparate images using their favourite rock tracks, Dean turns to the greatest hits of Paul Simon for a handy personal narrative. The whistles and applause in a live recording of "The Sound of Silence" are acknowledged by the Dean character (Thomas Edur) as his own; "Mother and Child Reunion" is just what it says; "Still Crazy After All These Years" cues in a nostalgic ice-rink duet with the Torvill figure, Edur flinging her to the floor in that familiar floor-skimming spin, or swirling her body from his hip like a sail.

The drama is simplistic, the characters are mere ciphers, yet the choreography is full of enjoyable, unpretentious invention that suggests the ballet world could learn much from Christopher Dean if it keeps an open mind. Who but an outsider could ask classical dancers to move to reggae? Dean has successfully transposed the fluidity of ice-dance to the stage, and from this judge it gets straight sixes.

London is at present in the throes of a Brazilian festival featuring the mineral-rich state of Minas. Foremost among its exports - after gold nuggets - is its large and hugely popular contemporary dance company Grupo Corpo. Formed 20 years ago by siblings of the Pederneiras family, its choreography is still solely produced by Rodrigo Pederneiras. His Enigma Variations had its British premiere at Sadler's Wells last week, and what an enigma it turned out to be.

Rather than take his cue from Elgar's mythical characterisations (as Ashton did) Pederneiras goes for a personal interpretation of each variation: romantic, mysterious or playful by turns. All well and good, but then he reshuffles the pack. Grand, lyrical variations prompt goosey waddles and froggy hops, mysterious ones the boogying bottom-wiggle of a cocktail- party hostess. Only the famously sublime "Nimrod" drops the irony in a sexy pas de deux that's big on arched backs and splayed legs, but hangs on to the duck feet as if to avoid unfavourable comparisons with ballet.

Things looked up with an acid-bright, fiesta-inspired number called 21. Its catchy aerobics in 7/4 time had the audience itching to get up there and let rip. And if Grupo Corpo ever needs to top up its funds, it could make a fortune flogging men's floral leggings.

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