Strictly Dancing, Birmingham Royal Ballet's latest triple bill, goes from a tutu set-piece via ballroom smooch to Greek pastoral. It should be sumptuous: there's some lovely choreography here. What the evening lacks is the confidence and flow of dancing. Sometimes the dancers are prim, sometimes they aren't strict enough.
Daphnis and Chloë is the big news of this autumn tour. Frederick Ashton's 1951 ballet is a major acquisition, a radiant pastoral danced to Ravel's lush score. John Craxton's designs set the ballet in a sun-baked landscape of stylised trees and deep blue sea, while Ashton's choreography is full of flowing chain-dances and sensuous detail.
Lovely as it is, it's a hard work to bring off, and this revival has lost style and atmosphere. The Birmingham dancers never look at home in the landscape of nymphs and shepherds, lacking ease and simplicity. Iain Mackay and Elisha Willis make a stiff pair of lovers, neither fluent enough for the dances nor spontaneous enough for the story. The corps cheers up for the faster scenes, such as the attack of ninja pirates or the scarf-waving finale, but even these lack bite. Despite Ravel and Ashton, this Daphnis drags.
The dancers are happier in Paquita and Nine Sinatra Songs, though neither takes off. Paquita is a tutu set-piece, a suite of dances by Petipa, the choreographer of The Sleeping Beauty. Galina Samsova's 1980 staging is lovely, a happily paced sequence of classical dances. Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs is the audience hit.
The Birmingham dancers are neatly coached: you can see the shape of those solos, the contrasts in the choreography. What you don't see is the fun of it all.
With Covent Garden up to its eyes in a Ring Cycle, the Royal Ballet starts its season with the familiar and the reliable. La Bayadère is a company showcase. For all its briskness, Natalia Makarova's production needs more weight and momentum, but on opening night the dancing was polished and alert.
The ballet's finest dance moment is "The Kingdom of the Shades". The heroine, Nikiya, appears to the hero in an opium dream, surrounded by a corps of ghosts. The Shades enter down a ramp, one by one, repeating the same simple phrase: a single dancer endlessly multiplied.
The Royal Ballet corps comes neatly down the ramp, but its best moment is in the dance that follows. Torsos were more open, gaining stretch and glow as the dancers leant into the rippling arm movements.
Though there are strong individual performances, this revival needs to to create more drive.
Tamara Rojo, the first-cast Nikiya, is virtuoso rather than ethereal. In the Shades scene, she jumps lightly and finishes her turns with sharp-edged precision. Her phrasing is duller in the lyrical passages. She is uncharacteristically subdued in dramatic scenes.
As the hero, Solor, Carlos Acosta has a handsome, confident presence and a fizzing technique, with a centrifugal force to his turning jumps. Marianela Nunez has a fierce elegance as Nikiya's rival Gamazatti. Her solos are boldly shaped.
Over on the South Bank, Shaker, by Israel's Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, shows a world in a snow-globe. The action is self-consciously eccentric, but the snow is marvellous. It sprays in powder clouds about the dancers' feet, or squeaks gently as they slide through it.
Pinto and Pollak work on almost all aspects of their productions, from steps to wigs to set design. Throughout, they mix styles. The music goes from Arvo Pärt to Swedish folk , with bursts of 1950s pop music, sung in Japanese, and fragments of Les Sylphides.
Shaker is most interesting when Pinto and Pollak stick to movement through snow. And, like many real snow globes, it is less interesting for its scene than the fact that snow falls on it.
'Strictly Dancing' touring to 27 October (www.brb.org.uk). 'La Bayadère is in rep to 27 October (020-7304 4000)Reuse content