American Ballet Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

American Ballet Theatre, one of the world's major companies, has always been known for its stars. Alexei Ratmansky's new Seven Sonatas, which opened the company's London season, has a virtuoso cast, but it's never just a vehicle. This is a rich work, full of terrific dancing.

The sonatas are by Domenico Scarlatti, played on stage by Barbara Bilach. Ratmansky brings on six dancers as a group. Strolling walks become strutting lines. The men all jump together, landing with a Spanish flourish. It's relaxed but mercurial.

Solo material makes the most of their variety. The sheer dazzle of Herman Cornejo's jumps and turns becomes funny; Xiomara Reyes, spinning clockwise and anti-clockwise, is flirty with her changes of direction. David Hallberg dips into a deep plié, hands slowly opening.

A duet for Yuriko Kajiya and Gennadi Saveliev is full of farewells – suddenly clasped hands, a close hug. Hallberg and Julie Kent are lyrical together, with a few little jokes. She moves towards him, then changes her mind. He dips into a lunge, so that she can balance on his thigh. They could be in rehearsal, laughing and working it out as they go. In the last sonata, Kent opens her arms in stages, matching a tick-tock phrase in the music with a gesture like a ticking clock hand. The other dancers pick up the gesture.

The rest of the programme can't match it. Twyla Tharp's Known by Heart has cutesy moves; Gillian Murphy is serene in the most daring slides. Paloma Herrera and Cory Stearns are sentimental in Balanchine's Duo Concertant.

Benjamin Millepied's Everything Doesn't Happen at Once is weirdly ineffectual. Though Millepied, who choreographed the film Black Swan, brings on battalions of young dancers, their massed ranks have no force. It's sleekly performed, though, with Daniil Simkin standing out for his firecracker technique.

To 6 February (www.sadlerswells.com)

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