Inviting five choreographers to make five small-scale works for the Royal Ballet drawing on the inspiration of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes is a great idea on paper. But as the five invitees discovered, it's a tough call to answer. What can one reasonably expect to emulate? The bludgeoning shock of The Rite of Spring? The dizzying hedonism of Scheherazade and Faune? The results make patchy watching.
For her Venetian Requiem, Cathy Marston stuck her neck out and commissioned new music. But the abject caterwauling of Judith Bingham's duet for saxophone and male alto not only failed to sound either watery or funereal (Diaghilev died in Venice), but signally failed to offer structural support to the maundering twosome on stage. What the young Stravinsky would have made of such a commission (or whether he would have taken the first train back to Russia) was the single thought on which one was willing to dwell. And while it had seemed bold to bring in Dance Theatre of Harlem's Robert Garland (The Royal's first commission of a black American), the result was an undigested homage that could only suffer by association.
Things look up with Vanessa Fenton's take on the theme of puppets, thanks partly to Bruce French's vividly detailed costumes rendering the 12-strong corps as an army of jointed red ants, but also to some imaginative crowd management with thematic hints of Rite and Petrushka. Nonetheless, a central plot involving Natasha Oughtred in white knickerbockers and Martin Harvey in a Shockheaded Peter wig, left for dead clutching a red balloon, had me floundering for clues.
What a relief, then, to enter the Perspex-clear semi-narrative of Matjash Mrozewski, a Canadian dance-maker little exposed in Britain. In A World of Art (a reference to the Russian magazine Diaghilev founded), a besuited Joshua Tuifua embodies the dapper impresario in a series of swirling vignettes. And while it was hard to name with certainty more than a handful of individuals - Laura Morera and Ric Cervera cutting a dash as Karsavina and Nijinsky - it was fun to try as they posed and flounced and bitched.
Top marks also to Alastair Marriott for his Being and Having Been, a razor-edged compendium of Ballets Russes themes. Here at last was an inkling of the directional spark that characterised Diaghilev's projects: exotic, mysterious, and each one ripe for adoption as a fashion moment. Designer Adam Wiltshire meets his brief by cladding the dancers in bathing caps, leather driving gloves and unisex Edwardian swimsuits printed with a single nipple. Add in a lost, orientalist treasure of a score by Igor Markevitch meshed with taut, angular gestures inspired by works from Faune to Les Noces, and you have a little gem that cries out for a second outing.
'Inspired by Diaghilev': Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000), todayReuse content