Rambert 75th Anniversary, Sadler's Wells; <br></br>Kirov Ballet, Royal Opera House, London

A toast to the big Cheese
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The Independent Culture

How do you celebrate three-quarters of a century in dance? Not, to judge by the opening of Rambert's birthday season, by going dewy-eyed about the past. Britain's oldest performance company hit 75 last Thursday, and while it can still be said to exist "for the twin purposes of tradition and experiment", as the company proclaimed in 1926, that tradition now embraces a startling diversity of styles. Some recent influences Marie Rambert would have boggled at.

Let's not be coy about the genesis of Cheese, the work by Jeremy James that began the Sadler's Wells programme. It has chemical stimulus stamped all over it. Five figures twitch in semi-darkness, repeating everyday gestures at manic speed: hands rubbed for warmth, joints flexed against cramp, a bus-stop slouch. James flicks through the motifs like a bored thumb on a TV zapper. Occasionally, a lone figure breaks away to trot forlorn backward circuits of the stage, or perform stuttering variations on a head-butt.

The cumulative picture of Cheese is of barely suppressed violence, grim social isolation and mental disarray. Yet as the club music (by Peter Morris) gains a hefty beat, the piece evolves into a powerfully muscular machine, still fastidious in its detail but excitingly big in scope. The joy is that Rambert Dance Company has the nous to spot exceptional offbeat talent such as James's, and the nerve to give it a high profile. The tragedy is that the choreographer died at the age of 38 last year. Cheese is the end of the line.

Symphony of Psalms was set to be the evening's emotional high point ­ a Rambert premiere of the 1978 Jiri Kylian classic, complete with Stravinsky score given live by the London Musici and the New London Chamber Choir. It should have been devastating ­ Kylian's sweeping, lyrical choreography for 16 dancers picturing hope, suffering and regret in a great agnostic hymn to life. I may have been distracted by a kerfuffle in the audience (some poor soul sobbing, it sounded like, all the way through). But for me the performance didn't hit the spot. The choral sound was disappointingly small. And after the bracing novelty of Cheese, Kylian's classically-based movement looked conventional, almost staid.

And so to a spot of fun with the Christopher Bruce hit Rooster, the Rolling Stones medley Bruce has been trying to retire from service for years. Easy to understand why he's giving it one last blast: its send-up of Sixties male vanity, all tie-straightening machismo and groin-swivelling swagger, has always brought the house down. So why did I suspect that the vocal element in the audience was from rent-a-whoop? Bruce may have calculated that most of the £5 promenaders would be coming fresh to the piece. But I'd guess Rambert devotees have been Roostered to the limit.

The Kirov also unveiled its London season with a repeat showing. But what a show! Its vast reconstruction of the 1890 production of Sleeping Beauty was reviewed fully in this space last year. Suffice to say that its abundant period detail is looking even richer, its restored choreography even more refined. It's so good it could be habit-forming.

Rambert season: Sadler's Wells, EC1 (020 7863 8000), to Sat; 'Sleeping Beauty': ROH, WC2 (020 7304 4000), 27 June

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