Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

I think we might begin to guess why Ross Stretton, the Royal Ballet's new director, is inventing fancy titles for the mixed bills this season. It could be to disguise the fact that he is not good at choosing which works go well together. He calls the latest programme "Enduring Images" (so enduring that it has only four performances) but might as well have written "Gloom and Doom", since once again he puts together works with such similarities as to detract from their effect.

There is one new production: it is Nacho Duato's Por Vos Muero. Why? Based on words by a 16th-century Spanish poet, Garcilaso de la Vega, and music by eight Spanish composers of about that time, this must serve a useful purpose with Nacho Duato's National Dance Company in Madrid. But neither sounds nor movements seem interesting enough to justify importing it.

The text, a collection of extracts from various poems, is ponderously declaimed in Spanish between numbers; the English translation throws little light on the scrappy and often dull choreography. Johan Kobborg and Ricardo Cervera have the liveliest, most entertaining number, full of eccentric jumps, and another section contains a first for this house: men swinging thuribles to scent the auditorium. There are several duets, but they hardly seem to justify the title I Am Dying for You.

The cast switch between fleshings and a heavily stylised version of old black Spanish costumes; Duato's own colourful backdrop, also changing arbitrarily between different patterns, is the only real bit of décor in the programme. In fact, the show might almost serve for a small-scale tour, using fewer than two dozen dancers, not much light or design, and only one work out of four with orchestra: the last movement of Schubert's "Great" C major symphony, decently conducted by Paul Hoskins.

William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated actually needs a big space because its nine dancers have to move a lot. But the other two ballets, small pieces by Forsythe and Duato, are minor works in ambition as well as size. The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude is speedy; the bit of Remanso given is jokey. Incidentally, the running order is less than ideal. In the Middle really needs to go in the middle; it is too dark to sit happily as an opener.

Also, if Stretton wants the dancers to maintain the "new levels of fitness" of which he writes in a programme note, it might be wise to shed the load more widely, thus perhaps reducing the unduly high level of injuries he has inherited. Several of the cast had to double up roles, but some others seemed present more for the sake of having high-powered names listed than because the parts needed their special qualities.

To 20 March (020-7304 4000)

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