Les Patineurs / Tales of Beatrix Potter, Royal Opera House, London

A happy, sparkly Frederick Ashton double bill that, sadly, made one leave the theatre dreaming of mousetraps

Before Strictly and the ballroom boom, it was figure-skating that won the British armchair vote for dance. And since the heyday of Torvill and Dean (I note the veteran duo are giving skating arenas another whirl just now), the phenomenon of temporary public outdoor rinks has taken off.

But it was in the 1920s and 1930s that skating had its major fashion moment, and it was surely no coincidence that Hollywood's biggest-grossing skating picture, Thin Ice, appeared in the same year, 1937, as Frederick Ashton's skating-party ballet Les Patineurs, currently revived at Covent Garden.

If there is a happier, sparklier item in the Ashton rep, I don't know it. Created to show off the virtuosity of the fledgling Royal Ballet, its cleverness lies in largely ignoring ballet's aerial qualities to focus on terre-à-terre steps that replicate the push, glide and sashay of effortless movement on ice.

On opening night, though, not all of the 13 "skaters" on William Chappell's tree-fringed frozen pond had caught the required nonchalance of that sashay. Some turned it into mincing, so that moments of humour misfired, most markedly in the case of the elegant couple who take an ungainly tumble, then swiftly reposition, stick their noses in the air and glide on. Wit is guaranteed, however, at every entry of the Blue Girls, Yuhui Choe and Laura Morera, as they stomp across the rink en pointe, swinging arms in sync, and turning their heads to smile at us like pert clockwork toys.

Part of the joy of this ballet comes from the costumes, credibly snug and furry, yet so dazzling in their detail that they almost dance by themselves. The Brown Girls' outfits are covered with tiny white balls, trimming the peplums on their jackets, their bonnets, even their socks. Poor Sarah Lamb, the Snow Queen of the piece, is so tiny she almost disappears into her powder-puff frock. Yet still she exudes ineffable 1930s glamour.

But the real star is the virtuoso Blue Boy – Ashton's answer to Petipa's Blue Bird in The Sleeping Beauty – who is challenged with sustaining, at length and extreme speed, the kind of spins that ought not to be possible without blades. Earlier in the piece, as the first-cast Blue Boy, Steven McRae slices zigzags from the air with beaten jumps as sharp as icicles. By the end, when he tackles that fiendish spin, his appearance has generated such expectation that the audience erupts.

While Les Patineurs feels short at 24 minutes, its companion piece, the hour-long Tales of Beatrix Potter, sags like the jowls of the giant sow, Mrs Pettitoes (a minor character whose mumsy outer casing, according to the cast sheet, concealed the splendid Eric Underwood – what a waste!). The terrible truth is that Tales, now hauled into annual service as a child pleaser – could have been a better ballet if Anthony Dowell, who adapted it for the stage, had edited with a firmer hand. (Ashton's dances were originally made for a film, and revel in delicious ballet in-jokes: the mouse waltz that turns the ribbon-play of Ashton's La Fille mal Gardé into a skipping game with mousetails; the arm-rippling exit of Jemima Puddleduck in the style of the Swan Queen.)

Out should have gone the tedious squirrels, whose ginger-furred padding makes a fumbling nonsense of the dancers' neatest efforts. Out, too, should have gone half those pesky mice. Yes, it's marvellous how the masks make their human hands and feet look tiny, the steps even daintier than they are, but the effect soon palls. Something is wrong, is it not, when one leaves a theatre musing on mousetraps?

In rep to 13 Jan (0207-304 4000)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living