Dance: Centripetal force

There is no ballet at all announced for London until June, but enthusiasts have found the solution: just take the train or bus to see Birmingham Royal Ballet in its home theatre. The new season starting this week is as imaginative as ever.

For the third year running, director David Bintley has given his dancers the opportunity to make their own choreography. No fewer than 11 of them have jumped at the chance, and judging from past experience the level should be a cut above what would usually be expected from aspiring newcomers.

The system is that instead of letting everyone make little bits and pieces, they collaborate by each contributing one or more sections to a larger work. This year's programme offers two premieres to highly popular scores well suited for dancing. Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals is one, with its many cameos, including a lion, cocks and hens, fish and a swan - this last inviting comparisons with the famous Dying Swan solo to this same music. Then in complete contrast, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with its familiar tunes and varied moods.

Those in the know are aware that BRB is currently the best ballet company in the country, so there should be no doubts about the quality of dancing. And to spread the opportunities for creative experience to young artists in another medium, second-year theatre design students from the University of Central England are providing the sets and costumes for both ballets.

There may be just one snag: with only three performances of this programme, next Friday and Saturday, and all the seats priced at only pounds 10, there has been tremendous demand from local audiences. So check ticket availability before making the journey. However, the good news is that the season continues until 7 March with two further programmes at normal prices.

First comes BRB's contribution to Birmingham's celebration of work created in the 1970s, part of the continuing "Towards the Millennium" festival (25-28 February). This brings revivals of three highly varied works: George Balanchine's powerful setting of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, Hans van Manen's imaginative and striking Gross Fuge to Beethoven's music, and Kenneth MacMillan's jokey Elite Syncopations to ragtime music by Scott Joplin and others. After that, Bintley's Far from the Madding Crowd, a tragic and colourful tragedy based on Hardy's novel, with a score specially written by Paul Reade (3-7 March).

Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst Street, Birmingham (0121-622 7486); new season from 20 Feb

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