Dance: New horizons

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Royal Ballet has, in the past, been accused of unadventurous programming and a tendency to rely too heavily on full-evening story ballets. This autumn's season at Hammersmith's Labatt's Apollo consists of Romeo and Juliet, Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty.

Although no-one admits to it in so many words, this is clearly ballet for a time of crisis. Deprived of its Covent Garden home for two years, lacking a house choreo- grapher or musical director, the company is in no position to chance its arm with new productions. Yet, if everything goes according to plan, the shameless familiarity of the ballets on offer will be no problem. Top of Sir Anthony Dowell's list of "Things to do Today" is "find a new audience" and, if this transfer to Hammersmith succeeds in luring the good people of the West to ballet for the first time, then the ultra-safe programme will be a revelation.

For the rest of us there are several compensations. The season is opened on Wednesday 24 September in high style by Sylvie Guillem in MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. Guillem dances Juliet with ever-increasing subtlety and intelligence. She acts throughout with a joyous abandon that makes the ending especially painful - so many Juliets give the impression of knowing in advance that it will all end in tears. Guillem will be ably supported by Jonathan Cope as Romeo and the divine Viktor Fedotov, chief conductor of the Kirov Ballet, who will perform his usual miracle with the often lacklustre orchestra.

The season's other highlight is the return of the audience's sweetheart, Viviana Durante, after a year's sabbatical. Although glimpsed briefly at the Covent Garden Farewell Gala, she will make her real comeback as Juliet to Irek Mukhamedov's devoted Romeo on Saturday 27 September.

Romeo and Juliet 24 Sept-4 Oct; Giselle 6-11 Oct; The Sleeping Beauty 13-18 Oct (0171-416 6082)