Bruce Sansom's An Evening of British Ballet followed a gala format of excerpts and pas de deux, but it had a great work at its heart. In Frederick Ashton's Symphonic Variations, six dancers move radiantly across a bare stage, flowing into bright steps and skimming lifts, or stand serenely still, one foot crossed over the other.
Ashton's ballet is full of upper-body detail - arms curving or straight, the line of head and shoulders creating a constant, constantly changing harmony. Alina Cojocaru, who made her name in this ballet four years ago, danced it with clear simplicity.
The men were good, too. Johan Kobborg, Ricardo Cervera and Edward Watson had soft, full phrasing and clear unison. Deirdre Chapman and Lauren Cuthbertson were weaker in the quick dances for the supporting women, but by the end the ballet had gelled.
The Orchard has a good, open stage - rather small for Symphonic Variations, but the sightlines are clear. The music was recorded, and the dances were given in costume but without scenery.
Sansom's programme wasn't just British: this was a Royal Ballet night. Sansom himself is an ex-Royal dancer, and has been proposed as a future director of the company. This tour, with its Royal Ballet dancers and works from the company's rep, will fit nicely into his CV.
It was a very specific take on the repertory. Sansom favours dances with limpid line and lyrical emphasis. The company hasn't commissioned too many of those in the past 15 years; he has combed through walloping, William Forsythe-influenced ballets to make an evening of gentle, wafting numbers.
Wayne McGregor's Qualia, for instance, is full of yanked high extensions and computer imagery. Sansom chose to highlight the pas de deux, its softest moment. Cuthbertson and Watson danced McGregor's pulling, tangling moves with attack, and gave a rambling piece some tautness.
The other surprise was the Ashley Page number. Page often goes in for sinister lighting and grappled duets, but he made the Larina Waltz pas de dix for a Tchaikovsky gala. It has tutus and classroom steps, and it made a bright finale for the evening.
Other choices were more interesting. William Tuckett's Puirt-a-Beul was made for a Dance Bites tour in 1998, but hasn't been seen since. It was a bouncy opener, danced to Celtic "mouth music". The girls had socks and kilted skirts, the boys had sweaters, and the dances were full of little jumps and folk-inflected footwork. Chapman, in particular, danced with sharp attention.
Chapman wasn't obvious casting in the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon's Tryst. It was made for Darcey Bussell's long legs and bold line; Chapman is smaller, without Bussell's splendid physicality. Again, it was her sense of attention, of focus, that lifted this performance.
In his concern for lyricism, Sansom put together a programme dominated by adagios, by floating chiffon numbers. We could have done with more allegro. The pas de trois from David Bintley's The Dance House is a very wispy piece, though it showed off Cuthbertson's lovely line. The duet from Kenneth MacMillan's Concerto is more substantial - but it's another slow number. Christina Elida Salerno lifted her legs crisply, but her upper body was too stiff for the lavish sweeps of MacMillan's choreography.
Ashton's Voices of Spring is lyrical, too, but there was no limpness here. It was a brilliantly crafted trifle. Kobborg floated Cojocaru across the stage in low lifts, her legs unfolding in a slow-motion run. Both dancers sparkled, and Kobborg's springy footwork had a real waltz lilt.Reuse content