Birmingham Royal Ballet / La Fille Mal Gardee, Hippodrome, Birmingham / Royal Opera House, London

Birthday treats and troubles
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The Independent Culture

It's now 20 years since the touring company of the Royal Ballet moved to Birmingham, gaining a home, a new name and a new identity. They're celebrating that change with an anniversary gala, marking where the company is now. It's a performance that catches some of Birmingham Royal Ballet's strengths, though uneven repertory also shows up weaknesses.

The move to Birmingham was the company's chance to put down roots. The gala, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, brings home Birmingham Royal Ballet's sense of local pride and loyalty. Gaylene Cummerfield and Iain Mackay dance the pas de deux from Peter Wright's Nutcracker, perhaps the best-loved in Britain, a production that has family feeling from the whole company.

There's some friendly nostalgia here. Michael O'Hare, now on the company staff, returns to the stage in an excerpt from Hobson's Choice, bouncing through his clog dance and welcomed with cheers. Kit Holder's Printer Jam emphasised the company's encouragement of young choreographers.

A number from Ballet Hoo! stresses the link between company and community. This Channel 4 documentary recorded BRB working with disadvantaged young people for 18 months, creating a special performance of Romeo and Juliet. Lives were changed; the seven who returned to strut through the mandolin dance have all moved on, into education and jobs, often into dance careers.

Film clips tell the story of these two decades, and providing context for each dance. It's a mix of useful information and too much backstage wandering. The programme emphasises the range of BRB's repertory, but doesn't always play to its strengths. In recent years, a celebration of Stravinsky has repeatedly made the company raise their game, from a stunning Firebird to dazzling Balanchine ballets. None of that made it in.

Instead, we got Balanchine's Theme and Variations, a work demanding pure classicism from its dancers. It doesn't suit BRB. They work hard, but that's no substitute for grandeur. They're more at home when there's some characterisation to get their teeth into, as Robert Parker and Céline Gittens showed in Balanchine's Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.

There were too many fluent but pedestrian numbers by David Bintley, BRB's director and chief choreographer. A pas de deux from Aladdin, created for Hong Kong but likely to join BRB's repertory, was the most inventive of Bintley's classical numbers.

The gala staging did include frontcloths and simpler scenery, showing off the distinguished designs created for Bintley's ballets. Philip Prowse's Beauty and the Beast are sumptuous, while Sue Blane's vanishing pirate ship is by far the best joke in a number from Sylvia.

The duet from Ashton's The Two Pigeons was tenderly danced by Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao, though one of the live pigeons went Awol.

Spring is finally coming: on a frosty night, the sheer sunshine of La Fille Mal Gardée makes it feel like summer. Ashton's ballet is a warm-hearted village comedy. Lise is in love with the young farmer Colas, while her mother wants her to marry a foolish rich boy. From lovingly observed family squabbles to buoyant corps dances, Fille unfolds in waves of happiness.

Marianela Nuñez is an exuberantly naughty Lise, scampering through quarrels with her mother. Her dancing has a wonderful spring to it, with sparkling footwork and a soaring jump that lets her bound into the air.

Carlos Acosta's relaxed charm makes Colas a natural role for him. William Tuckett is a superb Widow Simone.

'The Sleeping Beauty': touring to 24 April ( 'La Fille Mal Gardee': to 28 April (020 7304 4000)