Dance Bites Orchard Theatre
Dance: Dance Bites

Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Dance Bites gets a very bad press and most of it is deserved. The Royal Ballet's small-scale touring initiative is designed to encourage fledgling choreographers, but regional tax-payers deserve a starrier, classier show than they often receive. Perhaps conscious of this, the Royal Ballet tends to include one work by an internationally established choreographer to lend gravitas and keep the enterprise afloat.

The house for Tuesday night's show in Dartford was about two-thirds full. The programme (one of two selections touring the country simultaneously) opened with a rather low-key revival of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's 1963 "Las Hermanas", based on Lorca's play The House of Bernarda Alba. Although this claustrophobic piece has seen bigger stages, it is a perfect choice for touring to medium-sized theatres like The Orchard. Lynn Seymour's role of the oldest sister was danced on Tuesday by Gillian Revie, making a strong debut as the bitter, desiccated old maid robbed of her man by her naughty little sister. Revie was given an extra 20 years in the approved Bette Davies Now Voyager manner by the simple expedient of no lipstick and eyebrows that join in the middle. Her errant boyfriend was played by Stuart Cassidy, who seemed to relish the high testosterone role, sinking into a chair with his legs spread as if he needed to take the weight off his testicles. You see what the fuss is about when he strips down to his vest and reveals the impressive muscle definition now almost compulsory for the male dancer. Like the fins on a Cadillac, his abdominal muscles don't do a lot, but they impress the hell out of passing traffic.

This was followed by William Tuckett's "Puirt-a-beul" (``mouth music'' in Gaelic) which used archive recordings of vocal doodlings of the whoop- a-diddly-idle-day variety. Tuckett's steps blended the rigid upper body and deft footwork of Irish dance with the leaps and bounds of ballet and threaded them into the playful relationships between three couples. It was territory that has been explored more interestingly by Christopher Bruce, but it was sweetly done and the audience really took to it.

Christopher Wheeldon's ``A Royal Ballet'' was a classical pas de quatre to Beethoven's whimsical "Variations on God Save the King", danced before a grand piano and a huge Union Jack which had been pulled stylishly aside like an Opera House curtain. Wheeldon has an instinctive sense of the best way to fill space with elegant economy. His foursome included William Trevitt and the glittering Miyako Yoshida, but injuries to his original cast meant this tricky work was a little under-rehearsed, and the dancers weren't helped by the noisy Dartford stage.

The finale was Ashley Page's "When We Stop Talking", in which five women and six men act out unknowable hatreds and rivalries before a fence of designer chairs and bar stools. The programme notes include a set of stills from Psycho, The Maltese Falcon and Dirk Bogarde's The Victim and The Servant, and there was certainly a thread of camp cruelty running through the vignettes - epitomised by Peter Abegglen's creepy, voyeuristic presence. The dancers deliver Page's unnervingly off-kilter steps with slick belligerence but the half-hour noir nightmare was met with understandably mystified applause.

New Victoria, Woking, to Sat (01483 761144); Civic Theatre, Darlington, 2-3 March (01325 58655); Derngate, Northampton, 5-7 March (01604 24811)