A Tragedy of Fashion, Sadler's Wells, London

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Ian Spink's new work for the Rambert Dance Company, A Tragedy of Fashion, struggles with too many bright ideas. It's a traffic jam of pointed allusions and period detail, and it doesn't make a ballet.

Ian Spink's new work for the Rambert Dance Company, A Tragedy of Fashion, struggles with too many bright ideas. It's a traffic jam of pointed allusions and period detail, and it doesn't make a ballet.

It was a clever thought to celebrate Frederick Ashton's centenary with a new version of this ballet. In 1926, the first Tragedy of Fashion marked the start of the Rambert company, and of Ashton's career as a choreographer. That production is lost. Spink's version has new music, new designs, and a clutter of Twenties references.

The plot should be straightforward. The couturier Duchic, originally danced by Ashton himself, commits suicide when his designs are rejected. Spink opens with a splendid funeral group, models surrounding the coffin of the dead Duchic. The women wear gorgeous black frocks, strings of pearls, ostrich plumes (designs by Antony McDonald and Juliette Blondelle). The coffin is lifted by four athletes in Twenties shorts. In fact, they're dressed like characters from Nijinska's ballet Les Biches, an influence on the first version. A photographer whizzes in, and the women line up in tilted poses. Pearls rattle as the women turn; arms curve in face-framing positions. It's all quick and stylish. From there on, Spink loses focus. The first ballet's hints of lesbianism are expanded, with Spink adding several gay lovers, an alter ego and some partner-swapping tango dancers.

Duchic's designs were originally a series of solos. This time, they're costume jokes. McDonald and Blondelle weigh the dancers down with puffball skirts, satin sacks, endless polka-dot trains. They're hideously dull and leave no room to move. The only real dance is based on the surviving solo from Ashton's Tragedy. A mannequin glides in on pointe, turned away from the audience to show off a large bow at the back of her dress. In Spink's version, the model is a man, legs and bottom bare below the bow. Is this an easy laugh, or a new reason for Duchic's downfall? The tone is uncertain.

I kept hoping that this Tragedy would take off, turn its research into performance. The music, by Elena Kats-Chernin, is full of social dance, hectic tangos and waltzes, but the dances themselves are missing. Spink thinks up wonderfully stylish poses, fashion-plate attitudes, but rarely gets beyond them. The dancers look elegant and mark time. Only Amy Hollingsworth, a demanding patroness in long coat and cloche hat, makes much of her character. Martin Lindinger's Duchic is too busy partnering to dance.

The programme includes a revival of Ashton's own Five Brahms Waltzes in the manner of Isadora Duncan. Hollingsworth shows us the force of Ashton's Isadora, but misses the sensuality. Fin Walker's recent Reflection is a thin piece, full of repetition. Ben Park's score is inconsequential jazz, horns purring without going anywhere. The dancers huddle in lines, twist and jump in canon.

Rafael Bonachela's Linear Remains is a better bet. Christian Fennesz's music is all crackles and scratches, but the dancers move boldly through it, smooth and strong.

Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham (0870 730 1234), tonight to Saturday; then touring ( www.rambert.org.uk)

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