Festival Ballet, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

If only there was more to celebrate on stage: English National Ballet's return to the Royal Festival Hall has a sense of homecoming. Like the venue, this company was originally named for the Festival of Britain. This return to the South Bank comes with a sense of ambition, of expanding repertoire – which is where this programme falls down. Wayne Eagling's derivative new ballet is flanked by predictable revivals.

Eagling, who took over as director in 2005, sets Resolution to Mahler's Rückert-Lieder. Like many choreographers before him, he uses Mahler to establish a mood of angst and fuzzy uplift. The partnering is clingy.

David Richardson's lighting is shadowy, with small shafts for an unexpected disco effect. Smoke machines pump away in the background. Costumes, by Eagling and Wizzy Shawyer, have see-through trimmings: net skirts for the women, transparent T-shirts for the men.

Eagling's choreography keeps getting out of step with itself. The curtain goes up on dancers already moving. In one song, Eagling sets his dancers leaping to brass fanfares. When the brass comes in, though, the cast is still finishing off a winding group. The dancers have to disentangle themselves before they can start jumping.

Much of the choreography looks second-hand. You can spot bits of Kenneth MacMillan or Jiri Kylian: cruciform lifts, a dancer rolled from his partner's knees to the floor; group of women huddle together, bodies bent, arms overhead. Eagling's big poses are often spoiled by his rush to get dancers into position.

Part of Eagling's theme came from his involvement with a charity for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that, like haemophilia, has mostly male sufferers.

One trio has two men supporting a vulnerable third. Eagling is at his most focused, but also his most sentimental.

These steps give his cast very little to get hold of. Performances are polished but bland. Medhi Angot, Arionel Vargas and Zhanat Atymtayev are fluent in their trio.

Like ENB's recent George Gershwin spectacular, Resolution does have high musical standards. Elizabeth Sikora sings these songs with rich texture and intelligent phrasing, and conductor Gavin Sutherland and the Orchestra of English National Ballet respond exuberantly to Mahler's orchestral writing.

David Dawson's A Million Kisses To My Skin is a skippy number to Bach. Steps are classical, with random spiky touches. Upflung arms or off-balance spins turn up at regular intervals. There's little logic to Dawson's steps. He'll often set a keyboard flourish as a solo, without actually connecting the two. Dancer and pianist start and finish together, but Dawson's emphasised poses have nothing to do with the music's shape.

Last year, ENB danced A Million Kisses... with greater energy, responding to the challenge of new choreography. Now those frantic arms make many of these dancers look tight across the chest. They still sail and scamper through with bright attack. Erina Takahashi and Elena Glurdjidze are particularly nippy.

The evening ends with Etudes, Harald Lander's turgid classroom ballet. As Czerny's musical exercises grind on, the dancers trudge though this warhorse. They're efficient but not dashing. Glurdjidze hops on pointe without a wobble, but she can't find much variety in Lander's steps. Guest artist Zdenek Konvalina, stepping in for an injured Fernando Bufala, spins and jumps his way through the male role.

What should be a firework display lacks spark. Only the finale, which brings everyone back on for a last thumping demonstration, builds up much energy.

To 5 July (0871 663 2500)

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