The Kirov's lengthy, extravagant Romeo and Juliet was performed with extra panache on Monday night as a birthday treat for the Queen Mother. The most interesting thing about this ballet is the staging of large groups of people, the juxtaposition of aristocrats with commoners, of harlequins with street urchins, portrayed through court dances, folk dances, sword fights and comedia dell'arte.

But some of the dancing by the principal characters convolutes this tale of tragedy, labouring the point (every development in the plot is used as an excuse to dance) and leaving one hankering for the play's rich language or the high-velocity intense action of Luhrmann's film, set in the post- modern chaos of Nineties Mexico.

The ballet - a no-nonsense version of Leonid Lavrovsky's made in 1940 with the grandiose score by Sergei Prokofiev - pushes opu- lence to an extreme, as Lord Capulet's party exemplifies. Here lords and ladies in full-length gowns dripping with gold perform rigidly formal court dances. The posture of the women courtiers holds the torso way back ostrich-like to exaggerate their arrogant social bearing. But their dances are surprisingly passionate and the dropping of a gauntlet at a desired partner's feet or the kissing of a lady's hem evoke courtly games of love and intrigue. While Altynai Asylmuratova, the Kirov's pride and joy, was a compassionate Juliet and Viktor Baranov a sincere Romeo (alternative leads: Janna Ayupova and Ilya Kuznetsov), some roles, such as Islom Bainoradov's jester, were irritatingly showy.

The Kirov's love for the old-fashioned was epitomised in the final curtseys to the royal box. A gesture that is as much history for Russian dancers today as Shakespeare's play itself.

From the elite echelons of the ballet world to the democracy and social conscience of community dance, from the site of a regal theatre to that of a disused warehouse in south London, 9 Windows offered audiences a radically different dance experience. As part of Blitz '97, the annual festival of community dance held at the Royal Festival Hall, which includes a multitude of dance stars from all over the world and is designed to bring dance to the masses, 9 Windows was a celebration of dancers with learning difficulties. Two London-based companies, Magpie Dance Company and Corali Dance Company, created works around the theme of the transparency of windows and were situated in different locations, placing the audience outside these locations.

While Magpie invited the audience to watch from the balcony at the Festival Hall, Corali lured them down-river to an empty office building in Bermondsey (via a boat that was supplied). Both companies, which include professional dancers and dancers who have Down's Syndrome, showed the potential and rewards in working with such mixed needs. Magpie's balcony piece choreographed by Filip van Huffel and Sacha Lee was an abstract dance piece with patterns and configurations of contrasting bodies. Playful in its dynamics, it unashamedly invited the audience to feast their eyes on the "imperfect bodies" of people who are usually kept indoors, to laugh at their humour and admire their concentration and skill. Corali's piece was more theatrical and more atmospheric. Each window framed a happening, a moody singer, live musicians, a projected film and gradually the forbidding hollow building was animated through the interaction of these elements like a bare sketch which has been coloured in.

The dancers performed a series of tasks with absolute dedication both inside and outside the building, emerging unexpectedly from hiding places or from the street. The occasional screech of brakes from some joy-rider or the sound of burglar alarms and the dirty, uncompromising rain brought home the grim reality of this downtrodden area, but bathed the show in a more poignant light. In contrast to such a brutal environment the unloved warehouse became a hopeful refuge for the disadvantaged.

This is dance performance which demands from, rather than pandering to an audience. Its purpose is not to make the rich feel better but to show how dance can relate to its immediate context, how it can also be used to dissolve boundaries, to meet the very real needs of people within the community. 9 Windows, by asking the audience to look into the performers' space, reverses the role of the mentally impaired as being the outsiders looking into our society. Community dance has a low profile, but when it is allowed to create its own identity and is respected for what it is trying to achieve, it holds its own as an art form rather than being the victim of unfair comparisons.

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