The Royal Ballet has commissioned three works this season, and put them on the same bill. It's as if they're getting a quota out of the way, shuffling all the new stuff into the same corner. In spite of starry casting, it isn't popular: seat prices have been reduced, then reduced further. In an unfortunate sense, this is an experimental evening. The new works don't look ready for the main stage.
William Tuckett's Proverb is lifted by charismatic performers. Adam Cooper, making a guest appearance with his former company, joined Zenaida Yanowsky in a duet about the frustrations of a long-term relationship. Two single beds sit in the background. Steve Reich's vocal setting of a line by Wittgenstein grinds on. The dancers embrace, they rock, they turn away from each other. Yanowsky and Cooper are on glowing form, getting more emotion out of Tuckett's steps than he put there in the first place.
Cooper wasn't the only returning star. Russell Maliphant's Broken Fall was commissioned by George Piper Dances, the company formed by ex-Royal Ballet boyz William Trevitt and Michael Nunn. They've returned to Covent Garden at Sylvie Guillem's request. The Royal's French star still has the clout to demand new ballets.
Nunn crouches in a spotlight, reaching up and rolling over. Other spots - the lighting is by Michael Hills - show Trevitt and then Guillem. Their trio is full of bending, stretching, echoing. As Guillem stands, off-balance but held up by Nunn, Trevitt mirrors her pose without support. She stands on the men's bent backs, or is held overhead to be dropped and caught before she hits the ground. It's striking, but Maliphant's invention runs out. The dance meanders as he twists the trio into the same groupings, coming to a halt in an odd double ending. The dancers separate, a natural conclusion to the piece. So why add a solo for Guillem? It looks like a sop to her fans, a tacked-on glimpse of her famous high extensions.
After two miniatures, Wayne McGregor's Qualia is a company work. It starts with a series of gauzes, multiple projections of a single dancer. Qualia cuts between virtual and real dance, setting a projected corps against real dancers.
McGregor is a distinctive choreographer. Qualia is full of characteristic steps: the extreme extensions, often pulled past 180 degrees, the arching torsos, the stop-and-start phrasing. That vocabulary doesn't become a dance language. McGregor won't build steps into rhythmic units, with his music or against it. (The final duet is danced to an insistent bass tune, but nobody seems to notice the music's rhythm.) That may be deliberate illogic; he's interested in breaking up structures. His dance unravels, becoming a series of extreme poses and modish set design.
Mark Morris's Gong, which opens the evening, is a bright, shiny dance that doesn't quite come off. Morris matches Colin McPhee's gamelan score with witty, exotic poses, off-balance moves, intricate patterns. There are lovely steps, and the company makes the most of them, but the piece never quite gels. Plenty of little structures; not enough larger shape.
To 12 December (020-7304 4000)