You know the term "wireless set"? Old-fashioned radios they may be, but those big, burnished boxes used to be much more assertive, dominating almost every home in pre-television days. How clever of Michael Corder to seize on their mannerisms and the evergreen music of their lighter programmes, from Housewives' Choice to In Town Tonight, to make one of the most entertaining new ballets for a long time.
Light it is, but not slight: Corder uses most of English National Ballet's dancers in his choreography for Melody on the Move, and his brilliant designer, Mark Bailey, provides dozens of glamorous, colourful costumes to evoke the 1930s-50s, but made prettier and more colourful than the originals. Skirts and jackets acquire colourful linings; two cheerfully bouncy chaps wear what would have been unimaginably bright ties with their bowlers, black jackets and striped trousers.
A giant, stage-sized wireless introduces the ballet's eight episodes, giving way at the end to Broadcasting House itself. And no fewer than six composers provide the music, selected (Corder says) for its variety and feelgood quality.
So what happens? Imagine overalls turned into tutus, with the housewives' dusting interrupted for them to ride elegantly on old-style carpet sweepers, and a milkman making a mark on their leader (Simone Clarke in fine form). Think of girls operating manual typewriters (complete with a swing and a ring between lines), and add the dear old gag about a heroine who turns out to be beautiful without her glasses. Dmitri Gruzdyev and Yat-Sen Chang, both excellent dancers, happily manage the lively manoeuvres - and the brolly-twirling - of their duet.
There are two big showy ensembles, a couple of smaller groups in contrasted moods, stylish or saucy, and a sentimental romance for Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur that shows them off particularly well. All of it appeals equally to the balletomane and the everyday public, to old-time listeners and a new audience. I would guess that ENB has found itself a winner to equal its other recent one-act productions, Christopher Hampson's Double Concerto and Mark Morris's Drink to Me Only.
The latter work preceded the premiere of Melody on the Move to open ENB's short Sadler's Wells season, with Morris's reinvention of classical ballet as captivating as before, and as beautifully displayed by the dancers. Matz Skoog, the company's artistic director, earns double credit here, both for his support of English choreographers, and his repeated demonstration that audiences don't need huge story ballets, but can be drawn to rewarding bills of short, all-dance works.
What, yet another Romeo and Juliet ballet? Yes, rather a good one - and before you begin thinking that Wellington, where it just premiered, is too far off for your interest, let me add that the Royal New Zealand Ballet plans to bring it on a six-week British tour next spring.
The music is Prokofiev's, but played in a reduced orchestration by John Longstaff, and its lighter texture is a benefit. This adaptation seems more danceable but suffers no loss of drama. Hampson choreographs, completing his transformation from promising newcomer to established young creator. He and his Kiwi designer, Tracy Grant, have transferred the action to the past half-century; costumes range from 1950s la dolce vita movies to present-day street clothes.
The cinematic look is carried through into the mostly black, white and grey designs, with selected characters standing out for their touches of colour, predominantly red. Another strong design feature is that only Juliet and two chums wear ballet shoes and dance on point; the other women wear heels.
Romeo looks to be a student type, working part-time as a café waiter, in which capacity he makes up to a tarty Rosaline in dark glasses. But soon he is heavily involved in a street fight, in which Tybalt's enmity is made clear from the start. Escalus, restoring order, must be the local Mafia boss in a striped dark suit and shades, with a white coat hung over his shoulders - a brief but tremendous performance from Sir Jon Trimmer, whose skill and personality have led the company for almost all of its 50 years.
In the second act, replacing the usual irrelevant hoo-hah, there's a local wedding conducted by Friar Laurence. Instead of the mandolin dance, a commedia dell'arte interlude continues the love theme. Mercutio's death has no trace of comedy: he really thinks that he's going to live.
Hampson has given all of the company's 32 dancers steps that bring out both individual strengths and teamwork, and it hardly matters which cast you catch. For the protagonists, the choreography provides real love duets, and at the end comes a wonderfully imaginative invention: Romeo, having taken poison because he thinks Juliet is dead, feels her hands move on his arms as he dies. She is waking, but it's too late. A magical, moving moment.
ENB mixed programme at the Hippodrome, Bristol (0870 607 7500) 4 & 5 Nov; and New Theatre, Oxford (0870 606 3500) 25 & 26 NovReuse content