Dance Birmingham Royal Ballet

Eight months ago, the Birmingham Royal Ballet unveiled a revival of Ashton's Birthday Offering to howls of critical disapproval. Why, they wailed, had David Bintley selected this jewel-box of a piece if his dancers were unable to do it justice? Last Tuesday, when the company opened its first London season under Bintley's direction, Birthday Offering was wheeled out again. Bintley and his assistant director Desmond Kelly have clearly taken the dancers by the scruff of the neck: the result is a triumph. Hard work and sheer stubbornness have turned a failure into a showcase for the company's freshly polished talent.

The Ashton ballet was in a double-bill with Bintley's Carmina Burana. The choreography is in the shadow of Orff's monumental score - magnificently sung on Tuesday by Judith Howarth, Martyn Hill, Anthony Michaels Moore and the Royal Opera Chorus - but the dramatisation of the fall from grace of three trainee priests definitely has its moments. Michael O'Hare and the Kirov-trained Yuri Zhukov enact their brushes with deadly sin with power and conviction but it is Joseph Cipolla who steals the show. As he removes his trousers to reveal a gleaming white posing pouch there is a sudden rip of Velcro as Covent Garden collectively gets out its opera glasses. Admiring Cipolla's lean, muscled physique would be strictly Chippendales were it not that his body is the instrument of a fine artist. Every movement and gesture is thoroughly focused as his love for Catherine Batcheller lures him to damnation.

The season's other mixed bill opens with Balanchine's Theme and Variations. BRB have had the measure of this work since 1988, and they continue to dance it superbly. Kevin O'Hare handled the fiendish pirouettes and airborne solos with unstudied ease. The corps performed superbly and were equally undaunted by Agon, led by Monica Zamora and Joseph Cipolla.

Thursday's triple bill concluded with Bintley's Still Life at the Penguin Cafe. Although unashamedly crowd-pleasing, it is interesting to see the work again after enduring several seasons of the Royal Ballet's Tales of Beatrix Potter. Where Potter's animals are slavishly created with thick padding and furry suits, Bintley's are cunningly suggested by light masks and painted body stockings. Suddenly Penguin Cafe is looking a lot more interesting and so is the company that danced it.

In rep at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2 (0171-304 4000) to 31 May

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