Danses Concertantes, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

What a waste. Danses Concertantes - a group of fine soloists from New York City Ballet - are here stranded in barren repertoire.

What a waste. Danses Concertantes - a group of fine soloists from New York City Ballet - are here stranded in barren repertoire. Weak choreography blurs the dancers, making it hard to see their gifts. On their last visit, they were much admired: leading dancers, live music, immediate impact. This time, they concentrate on new ballets. There's one oddity of a Balanchine, and otherwise it's meagre recent pieces.

Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir is a Balanchine curiosity, though in this context, it starts to look quite juicy. Pierre Henry's recorded score sets human sighs against the sound of a creaking door, noises ranging from squeaks to deep cello groans. Balanchine's 1974 duet matches steps exactly to Henry's sounds. The male Sigh is the weaker role. He's left to roll around with splayed legs and flexed feet, hitching himself into knots. Tom Gold rocks about with a will, but his steps look dated and would-be groovy.

Things look up when it comes to the Door - Maria Kowroski in body tights, Louise Brooks bob and silk train that covers the stage. She has a pose for each creak: showgirl attitudes, legs swung high and stabbed back down, torso twisted back and forth as the door opens and closes. It wears thin, and the piece is too long, but at least it has style.

Ballet desperately needs new choreographers. Dances by Benjamin Millepied, a dancer with NYCB, have been welcomed with interest, but his Circular Motion, a world premiere, is a disappointment.

Four men stand at the corners of a bare stage. They move into the centre, and out again, dancing in silence. Two pianists start to play the insistent clatter of Daniel Ott's Pieces of Reich. The men keep dancing, and the music makes very little difference. Millepied's dances are efficient strings of ballet steps, cleanly performed, but he reveals nothing about his dancers, and gives his piece no distinctive style. Circular Motion just keeps going, like knitting unravelling.

In a world short of choreographers, it's easy to overpraise Christopher Wheeldon. His dances are legible, and after Circular Motion, his Liturgy shows a sense of structure, of stage space. But he can repeat himself, relying on lighting to give his dances atmosphere and point.

Liturgy is set to an Arvo Pärt duet. Jock Soto and Wendy Whelan, clad in hideous leotards, arrange themselves in poses. They stretch arms out at an angle, tilt them in another direction, tilt them back. Then do it again. Soto turns Whelan upside down and holds her there, one-handed. It's a solemn, pallid dance.

The programme ends with John Adams's minimalist Hallelujah Junction, choreographed by the NYCB director Peter Martins. Dancers rush, jump, snap their limbs about. The lead couple, in white, are drawn away by a man in black. The contrast never becomes dramatic - the choreography is too blandly unfocused. However, it is boldly danced, with real verve from the corps. The whole programme is well performed. These dancers deserve better.

Ends tomorrow (0870 737 7737)

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