"We have another ghost," announced the choreographer Will Tuckett, "wafting his way here in a taxi."
The first night of a new ballet must be stressful enough without the hero injuring himself. Tuckett's new work for English National Ballet had to wait for a second Sir Simon. This long, unscheduled interval was no help. The Canterville Ghost was planned as a family show, and as such it hits enough of the right buttons. There are clear characters, bright design, some easy comedy. But the show is thin and slack.
The ballet is based on Oscar Wilde's story. The ghost tries to drive out the rich American family who move into his stately home; Virginia, the sweet, teenage daughter, brings about his redemption. Tuckett plays around with the plot, reducing Wilde's sentiment but leaving the story less clear. Things are kept straight by a narrator, the actor Tom Baker, booming away on tape.
This is the ballet's most serious mistake. We have a hero who spends half his time miming to playback. It's quite clear that Andre Portasio isn't speaking those words; the recorded voice undermines his authority. Worse, this isn't a voice we can take seriously.
Tuckett's mime and dance-scenes doodle along beside Martin Ward's bland pastiche score, filling in the time with steps and gestures without really taking off. The ghostly dinner party should be the show's comic highlight, but the timing isn't good enough.
Dick Bird's set is satisfyingly theatrical. He frames the stage with a false proscenium and opera boxes. The ballet becomes a play-within-a-playhouse, with ghosts popping up in the boxes.Sue Blane dresses the dancers in bold colours and Edwardian frills, leaving them plenty of room to move.
Portasio, who danced most of the opening night, rises above the Baker handicap to become a splendid Ghost. His acting has a mocking flourish, while he makes the most of every dancing opportunity. His steps are clean, strong and boldly phrased, and he carries himself with grandeur. After his injury, James Streeter stepped in with aplomb. Elena Glurdjidze is a lively Virginia, quailing and then reproving the ghost. As Cecil, her foppish suitor, Juan Rodriguez does his best to animate Tuckett's feeble jokes.
Back in the present day, Warp Moves, a one-off show part-commissioned by the Brighton Festival, mixes contemporary dance with artists from the music label Warp. It's a cheerful hybrid, more formal than a club night, with an energy that lifts the choreography on stage.
Wayne McGregor is the biggest dance name here. His Random Dance company ends the evening, appearing for the last number in a set by the electronica duo Plaid. This kind of performance suits McGregor. It stresses the qualities of his dancers, their speed and fullness of movement, while glossing over McGregor's tendency to slack rhythm and loose composition.
By the time Random Dance appear, we've already watched half an hour of flickering visuals by the video artist Bob Jaroc. It's almost a surprise to see the weight and texture of real physical movement. Plaid build up layers of beats, samples, and musical lines: it seems to pull the choreography into shape. McGregor's dances are often disjointed. This time, the fragmented structure matches the music, while Plaid's larger structures keep the show moving.
The event's other choreographer, Darren Johnston, has made a habit of robotic dances, his dancers dressed as clones, or as the boffins who control them. This evening opens with a softer variation on the theme. The scientist figure, in long white robes, goes in for "priestess" gestures as she manipulates a figure resembling a giant Barbie doll - apparently naked, but with mask and knickers.
'The Canterville Ghost' to 3 June (0870 060 6646)Reuse content