First Night: Rambert Dance Company, Sadler's Wells, London

A hollow tribute to 80 years of innovation
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The Independent Culture

The Rambert Dance Company, 80 this year, celebrates by looking forward and back. Every work on this programme was made in 2006, though the newest reworks a 1939 ballet. But they're all disappointing. Rambert has a history of encouraging new choreography, but this latest batch is out of focus.

Looking through British ballet books of the 1940s, you're likely to find a picture of Rambert's Sally Gilmour - bright-eyed, feral, her hair bunched up into pointed ears - in Andrée Howard's Lady into Fox. In this anniversary year, the company has reworked one of its most popular early works, last seen in 1950. It has new music by Ben Pope, new designs, essentially new choreography.

The central scenes, for the vixen Mrs Tebrick and her bewildered husband, are a reconstruction of Howard's duet - though colleagues who saw the original didn't recognise any of it. The framing scenes were choreographed by Mark Baldwin, Rambert's director.

The result is a lot of scampering about. Baldwin's hunt scene is full of bouncy jumps and footwork - not unattractive, but without purpose or direction. The transformation is weakly handled, with Pieter Symonds slowly dropping her dress to reveal fluffy tunic and fox's brush. She isn't changed. Her dancing, though forceful, is never wild. These days, Rambert is a modern dance company, focusing on plotless works. Trying to return to 1950, dancers and choreographer have forgotten how to tell stories.

Stand and Stare takes its themes from L S Lowry's paintings. Darshan Singh Bhuller's work was commissioned by The Lowry theatre in Salford, where it had its premiere in September. He puts plenty of dark-clad figures on stage, but it is less like a street scene than an exercise class.

The evening opened with two works from Rambert's Workshop season. Angela Towler and Martin Joyce were lively in Divine Influence, flapping silk skirts to Beethoven. Cameron Mcmillan's Verge, set to Elspeth Brooke's squelches and creaks, was harder to bear. The women, in black dresses by Roland Mouret, flung themselves on and off chairs. Weirdly, Mouret dressed the men in underpants, with one sock each. Did the others get lost in the wash?

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