Royal Ballet Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet opens the new season with a curious triple bill. Here are three imported ballets, plotless stagings of important 20th-century scores, all revived after a gap of several years. This puts many of the company's leading dancers on stage, and the whole evening sounds good, conducted by Antonio Pappano. But the choreography ranges from fierce brilliance to empty emotionalism, from George Balanchine to Glen Tetley.

Made in 1972, Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto is the oldest, and by far the most modern. It sizzles with energy, and with strangeness. As Vasko Vassilev's violin bites into the opening phrases, the dancers just stand there. Then they plunge into motion, pointing up different rhythms. Groups of dancers charge on, knees prancing.

In the acrobatic first Aria, Darcey Bussell pulls away from Edward Watson, even as she winds her limbs around him. She arches back into crab positions, gymnastics evolving into weirdly beautiful poses. Bussell's dancing is stringent, yet lush, with a glow to every unfurling step.

The Royal Ballet revived Tetley's Pierrot Lunaire last season. This bill adds Voluntaries, with bodies beautiful tying themselves in knots to Poulenc's dramatic organ concerto. Tetley sticks to Poulenc's big, booming notes, ignoring major changes in the music.

His choreography is strenuous stuff. Federico Bonelli hoists Alina Cojocaru into the air, where she twists into cruciform poses or arches her back in woe. Rupert Pennefather and Thiago Soares manipulate Sarah Lamb through a tug-of-war trio. Throughout, the dancing has a rigour that this choreography doesn't deserve. Those big leaps power Tetley's ballet, winning applause, but he seems to consume his dancers' technique, without challenging or developing it.

After that, Sinfonietta looks downright wholesome. Jioi Kylian's ballet is all vague uplift, the dancers bounding with unspecified joy. There are no small steps, no contrasts, no real roots. But if Kylian waffles, he hasn't Tetley's manipulativeness. The company give a spirited performance, with Steven McRae and Laura Morera outstanding. Pappano conducts a sumptuous account of Janacek's score, with a gorgeous shimmer to the fanfares.

In rep to 16 October (020-7304 4000)

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