Royal Ballet Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London

All the urgency and humour of youth shines through the scintillating main-house debut of a 25-year-old choreographer
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The Independent Culture

In many people's minds, ballet is defined by three Ts: tradition, tutus and ticket price.

The Royal Ballet's latest triple bill wrong-foots that assumption on all counts. Best seat for this show costs just £37.50, the cheapest almost beats chips, and there's not a tutu in sight. This is an evening of two fine revivals and a world premiere, all of them made within the past two years, all of them commissioned by the Royal Ballet. Given its historic tendency to be stronger on heritage than creativity, that's a real turn-up for the company.

The programme opens with the novelty, As One, made by 25-year-old company dancer Jonathan Watkins. The standard advice to budding fiction writers – to start from their own experience – applies equally to novice choreographers, for what do 25-year-olds know, except what it's like to be 25? The chief joy of this half-hour blinder is its focus on the urgency and optimism of youth.

Framed in a square of light, a young woman jack-knifes through poses at cartoon speed. The frame enlarges to reveal a dozen others, driven by the stabbing strings and juggernaut brass of Graham Fitkin's enjoyably Stravinskian score. The set (by Simon Daw) is a bold Perspex curve, divided into more squares that might be computer screens or windows in a block of flats. Hitchcock's Rear Window is clearly an influence, as we're shown what's going on behind each pane.

Part of the curve opens into a party in a smoke-hazed kitchen, with young people flirting and smooching, breaking off for bursts of comic boogying. Steven McRae, a fluorescent streak of orange suit and carrot hair, conveys the hectic pace of urban living as he throws off virtuoso leaps before a stage-wide board of frantically updating train departures. In a more inward mood, a girl, the excellent Kristen McNally, obsesses nervously outside a waiting room. We're shown people within, but not what they're waiting for ... an audition, a doctor's appointment, an abortion?

While the theme makes a virtue of inexperience, Watkins' command of space and dynamic is sophisticated beyond his years. And what nerve to ask the company's stallion of a principal, Edward Watson, to play a couch potato, driving girlfriend Laura Morera to fury as he slumps on a sofa, channel-hopping. As yet, though, this central scene doesn't quite meet its savage or comic potential. With more performances it may sharpen up.

Likewise, a scene superfluously titled "Urban Youth" (couldn't we have guessed that?) misses tricks. Yes, it was a nice design idea to make a nod to "shoefiti", the bizarre fad for flinging sports shoes on to overhead wires to dangle by their laces, like urban bunting. But it would have been cleverer to have incorporated into the dance something of this expression of jaded consumerism.

But these are minor cavils, given the vibrant impact of the whole. Three years ago, when the Royal Ballet first declared its intention to generate work in-house rather than buy from abroad, it seemed like wishful thinking. But the appointment of Wayne McGregor as mentor and encourager of fresh talent has clearly yielded results.

McGregor's own Infra gets a second run, offering a different take on the modern urban psyche – or is it the same, just more cynical? As neon figures, by the artist Julian Opie, stroll across a raised walkway, their hyperactive, flesh-and-blood counterparts below seem harried. Yet it's the humanoids that hold your gaze, not the dancers, whose twitchy exertions reveal more about their stamina than their states of mind.

Despite Infra's startling physicality, it lacks an emotional core that could make it memorable. That quality is left to Kim Brandstrup's Rushes, a shadowy, fragmented love triangle – set to Prokofiev via Michael Berkeley – whose sense of absence haunts you for days.

In rep to 4 Mar (020-7304 4000)

Next Week:

Jenny Gilbert catches the dynamic Danza Contemporanea de Cuba on its first UK tour

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