Impressing the Czar, Sadler's Wells, London

In the auction scene from William Forsythe's Impressing the Czar, props and dancers are dragged forward and displayed to the audience. Agnes, the main speaking character, tries to keep control. As she harangued audience and dancers, I wondered if Forsythe was aiming for a Monty Python effect: absurd detail, manic action, surrealism. If so, it falls flat.

Part of the Sadler's Wells "Focus on Forsythe" season, this is one of the American choreographer's most famous works. At the heart of the ballet is In the middle, somewhat elevated, an aggressively speedy dance made for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1988.

The work has been brought back by the Royal Ballet of Flanders and its director Kathryn Bennetts, a Forsythe associate. They take on their new signature work with energy, but could use more bite. So could the material.

The opening movement piles up a jumble of symbols. A slanting chess-board takes up part of the stage, with gilded objects laid out on its squares. Dancers in full skirts perform courtly steps or frantic mime scenes. Painted canvases are unrolled and draped around dancers. A man imitates the Venus de Milo's pose.

Agnes (Helen Pickett) wanders through the action, commenting on the dancers and pictures by radio link to her colleague Roger. It's meant to be random and fragmented, a collage of references, academic points and slapstick. But surely it wasn't meant to be boring? Forsythe and his dancers go on and on and on, telling the same joke forever. Pickett's delivery is hasty and slack. There are some recent additions to the script, references to the American election and the credit crunch, but they're lazy gags. Just mentioning something doesn't count as comment, whether it's Sarah Palin or the whole of western civilisation.

The strongest section is In the middle. The Flanders dancers don't match the articulation and dance contrast of the Kirov, who danced this work at Sadler's Wells last month, but they do drive through these walloping steps. Aki Saito is pugnacious and fast in the leading female role. Here, the ballet is performed on a completely bare stage – even the wings have been taken out – so that the movement is isolated in a huge empty space. The dancers look both smaller and more explosive for it.

Impressing the Czar ends with a big group dance. The whole company return, in ugly wigs and schoolgirl outfits, for a huge circle dance. Even that isn't the explosive finale Forsythe had in mind. Everything needs more drive.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week