The Hard Nut, Sadler's Wells

A kitsch Christmas cracker
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The US choreographer Mark Morris updates The Nutcracker to a comic-book 1960s for his version, The Hard Nut. Given its London premiere as part of Dance Umbrella, it's loud and tacky, but goes beyond kitsch in moments of unexpected beauty.

The US choreographer Mark Morris updates The Nutcracker to a comic-book 1960s for his version, The Hard Nut. Given its London premiere as part of Dance Umbrella, it's loud and tacky, but goes beyond kitsch in moments of unexpected beauty.

The Snowflake waltz is the greatest of those. On they rush, men and women, in glittery tutus and ice-cream cone headdresses, throwing handfuls of snow. They hold arabesques with bright attention, and tilt their heads with an affecting shiver, catching the thrill of Tchaikovsky's music. The waltz builds to a crescendo; for every note, a Snowflake leaps and throws more snow. The air fills with flying figures and patterns.

Morris's first act stays close to the traditional Nutcracker plot, with a party at the Stahlbaum house, but it'sraucously updated. Adrianne Lobel's sets are drawn in thick black lines. The costumes, by Martin Pakledinaz, are exaggerated wonders of 1960s fashion. The magician Drosselmeier still brings the children dancing toys, but here they're a Barbie and a robot.

Morris frames the second act with material from the original Hoffmann story. Marie is feverish after the party, and Drosselmeier tells her the story of the Hard Nut: more rats, a princess turned ugly. This is all wittily mimed. Marie's own family plays the royal family of the story; the national dances are part of Drosselmeier's worldwide search for a cure.

The point of this, for Morris, is his heroine's compassion. When the cured princess rejects the newly ugly Nutcracker, Marie stops the story and offers him her love. At this performance, that moment was rushed and muted. And there's another flaw in this revival. Morris's greatest quality is his musicality: the juice of each movement, danced full out, is fitted to the music's pulse. It gives his barefoot steps their blunt force and grace. The last time I saw The Hard Nut, it shaped the whole ballet. It's there in this revival, but not quite consistently. On the first night, the party scene relied more on acting and kitsch than on musical timing. There's too much coarsened phrasing in the national dances. The ballet stays on course, but loses some of its bubbling invention.

No such complaints about the leads. David Leventhal is an ardent Nutcracker, and Lauren Grant a buoyant, touching Marie. John Heginbotham's stylish Mrs Stahlbaum slides between real feeling and delicate exaggeration. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Robert Cole, gives a sparkling account of the score.

Across town, in the Clore Studio, Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion sit side by side. They move hands and arms, bend in their chairs, half-rise. They're dressed in street clothes, and each has a book of notes - a score? - on the floor in front of him. The gestures pile up, in unison and counterpoint.

Both Sitting Duet returns to London after a successful world tour. It's minimalist, but it isn't dry, thanks to the contrasts between Burrows and Fargion, the sharp glances and jostlings for position in those repeated gestures. These start to look like arguments, sulks and reconciliations. Burrows will make five gestures to Fargion's three. Fargion persists with his own pattern, as if insisting that his way of doing things is perfectly reasonable, thank you. The dynamics change: bossiness, passive resistance, cold shoulders, quietly moving on.

The layers of patterning and squabble can be very amusing. Both Sitting Duet works through rhythm, and by the end Burrows and Fargion use sound as well as movement. I jumped when they clapped; it was the first noise in 30 minutes. The funniest moment is when Fargion starts speaking: yumyumyum. Burrows flutters around the vocal pattern, moving in and out of time.

'The Hard Nut' to 27 November (0870 737 7737); 'Both Sitting Duet' to 26 November (020-7304 4000)

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