New York City Ballet, Coliseum, London

Big celebration let down by routine dancing as ballet returns to basics
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This is an event, but you wouldn't always know it. With this performance, New York City Ballet, one of the world's major companies, returned to London after 25 years. It's also the start of a season of dance at the Coliseum, a new venture that gives dance a substantial West End presence. That should add up to a special occasion. On opening night, performances went from vivid to routine.

For the first of four programmes, NYCB went back to basics. This opening was a celebration of George Balanchine, founder of this company and the greatest choreographer of the 20th century. Since his death in 1983, its handling of his legacy has been controversial. Was Balanchine's own company still the best place to see his works?

"Serenade", "Agon" and "Symphony in C" are all marvels, which is reason enough to see this programme, but they're in variable shape. Strong performances sit next to blurred edges. "Serenade", danced to Tchaikovsky, is a pure dance work with fragments of story. Soloists whirl in and out of the corps, one falling as the others rush onwards. A woman guides a man, her hand shading his eyes. Music and drama are romantic, but this ballet is not soft. There's a quick thrust to these steps that make it daring as well as lyrical. Those qualities are all there in Ashley Bouder, the third of Serenade's ballerinas. She has a speed and drive that the company around her too often lack.

"Agon", danced to Stravinsky, has courtly flourish, sleek modernity and a steely sense of competition. It's certainly there in Wendy Whelan, who spins ferociously then plunges to a dead stop, one knee hooked round Albert Evans's neck. Teresa Reichlen is striking in the castanet solo, stretching her long limbs round its different rhythms.

"Symphony in C" should end the evening in a rush of celebration, bringing on wave after wave of leaping, spinning dancers. This performance lacked sparkle, with some dawdling corps work and a hectic edge to the speedy steps. There are better moments – Sara Mearns's stretched feet, Gonzalo Garcia's dash. Even so, NYCB are scrambling to keep up with their own roots.

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