The arts in 1999: Dance - A sidestep in the right direction

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How the landscape has changed since this time last year! Sadler's Wells is back in business, and larger-scale dance productions are pouring into the capital as never before. With its state-of-the-art facilities and ample stage, the Wells is attracting major foreign artists and companies which once struck London off their touring plans altogether for want of a suitable venue.

First for the new diary is Tanztheater Wuppertal (27-30 January), making its first London visit in 17 years. Pina Bausch's detailed theatrical approach with the fabled Tanztheater has inspired not just choreographers but theatre and opera directors for the past 20 years. For Sadler's Wells she brings her large ensemble from Germany to revive Viktor, a visionary four-hour epic played out on a stage dominated by a huge earthwork. Will we be up to this? We'll see.

It'll need a speedy sweep-up to clear the boards for Edward II, David Bintley's full-length ballet treatment of Marlowe's play which arrives on 2 February. The medieval history of infatuation, jealousy and vengeance is grippingly developed against a backdrop of intrigue and brutality. A big hit for Birmingham Royal Ballet at its home base in 1997, the production has costumes by Jasper Conran and a superb, symphonic-scale score by John McCabe. If I were to send my friends to only one ballet this year, it would be to Edward. But that's not all BRB has up its sleeve. It's also showing a triple bill that includes Twyla Tharp's In The Upper Room, a wacky mixture of dancers in trainers and pointes set to a pounding score by Philip Glass. Back on its regular beat, BRB will bring back its hugely popular, much-missed Bintley ballet, Hobson's Choice, to be launched at the Liverpool Empire in March. It's also working up Peter Wright's production of Coppelia for touring in May and June. And even that's not all. BRB's autumn season brings a major new production of Giselle (at the Birmingham Hippodrome), and a fascinating trio of short ballets inspired by jazz. On this reckoning alone, BRB could keep most of Britain in ballet treats for the year.

Which is scant comfort for the beleaguered Royal Ballet, which looks to be spending much of its year overseas, pending the reopening of Covent Garden in December (builders willing). It's also going to be doing some pretty hard soul-searching, I would imagine, after the recent show of no-confidence by some its dancers. The usual Dance Bites tour to the regions will go ahead, however, and a major summer season at Sadler's Wells promises an important revival of Ashton's Ondine, with music by Henze, which is a step in the right direction. The endless trotting out of Swan Lakes and Sleeping Beauties has seriously staled the Royal's core audience as well as its dancers.

Their summer season also sees a new appeal to popular taste with a triple bill that brings back Ashley Page's hit, Fearful Symmetries, with David Bintley's animal extravaganza, Still Life at the Penguin Cafe. A new one- acter based on The Turn of the Screw (with music by Gyorgy Kurtag) looks interesting. The choreographer is billed as William Tuckett - who happens to be one of the defectors from the company. Acrimony being what it is, better watch out for changes of plan.

Northern Ballet Theatre also suffered a tragic setback this season with the death of Christopher Gable. But did dancers leave, and did they cut a performance? They did not, and they bring Gable's go-for-the-jugular, highly enjoyable Dracula to Sadler's Wells in March. In Leeds and on tour, they'll be showing off their new show, Carmen, choreographed by spunky Rambert dancer, Didy Feldman.

Other dates to quicken the pulse include: hunky Irek Mukhamedov leading Arc Dance in The Return of Don Juan (Sadler's Wells in March, then touring); Elbow Room, a week of dance and comedy overseen by John Hegley at The Place; a season of Mats Eks at the Edinburgh Festival; and lastly, oh joy, an autumn tour of the provinces by Mark Morris. Who could ask for anything more?

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