Ballet Central, Linbury Theatre, ROH, London

Brave new whirl
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The Independent Culture

You should always listen to the boss. The composer Carl Davis, having written successful scores for Christopher Gable's Northern Ballet Theatre, tried to persuade him that they should collaborate on Pride and Prejudice, and was turned down. Gable was right: wonderful novel, impossible ballet. But Davis went on to compose for the celebrated television adaptation of the book, and has now used his quite jolly music as the basis of a short work for Ballet Central, the touring company of senior students at the Central School of Ballet, also founded by Gable. They gave it in this gala performance at Covent Garden's Linbury Theatre and, I'm sorry to say, confirmed its unsuitability as a dance subject.

Even so, the choreographer Cathy Marston retrieved something from it, notably distinctive roles for the Bennett sisters – especially one (presumably plain, pedantic Mary) as slightly dour, sharper and more angular in movement than her sisters, keener on her book than on the ballroom. Ben Weeratunge as the military suitor Wickham came over well, too. Sensibly, Marston aims only to evoke snatches of action and character, and having got over Jane Austen can now resume making more interesting ballets.

By far the most rewarding work in the programme was St Paul's Suite, a straight dance setting by Michael Corder of Holst's familiar and attractive music. Corder has made it for a small, all-female cast: a lively foursome of the smaller girls, doing mostly quick little steps, and two pairs whose interventions feature bigger but related movements. The piece shows how a few sequences can be developed interestingly into enriching juxtaposition. It shows the young cast off to advantage: it's not too demanding, but it is inventive and stylish.

As evidence of the long-term possibilities open to students, the gala included a pas de deux from Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet, danced by principals of the company, Chiako Nagao and Hironao Takahashi, who were both at Central School a decade ago. The rest of the programme was mixed in content – which must be good for the dancers – but mixed in quality, too, and less good than the proficient casts deserved. Fergus Logan's Three into Two Won't Go was probably the best number – slight but vigorous – and Antonio Castilla's Initiation the most puzzlingly vacuous. I was startled to learn, on reading the programme afterwards, that the latter piece was meant to have some kind of content (water, earth and forest) that simply did not appear for a moment.

The gala was held to raise funds for Central School's ambitious development appeal, to add a studio theatre and health centre and to improve the library and access. All sponsorship is up for grabs – from providing books, to the full works at £3m.

Touring to 13 July (020-7837 6332)

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