Dance: Truly temperamental

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Balanchine Mixed Bill Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Hippodrome

In their pursuit of that protected species known as the Ballet Audience, many directors have headed for the safe cover of well-loved tales. Not David Bintley.

Last week he opened Birmingham Royal Ballet's autumn season at the Hippodrome with the everyday tale of a homosexual king and his x-rated death. On Thursday his company staged revivals of three one-act works by George Balanchine with the help of Karin von Aroldingen, Nilas Martins and Victoria Simon of the Balanchine Trust. Neither programme is easy to sell to the family-treat contingent but both should appeal to any theatregoer in search of interesting new work or who would like to catch up on timeless classics of 20th-century .

Serenade was Balanchine's first American work and was developed from the class in stage technique he gave to his first students at the School of American Ballet in 1934. Each section was devised with whatever number of rs turned up to the class and the choreographer deliberately retained something of that fresh, improvisatory feeling in the finished ballet. Birmingham have had the work in their repertoire since 1994 and they now look quite at home in it. The corps de ballet form the serried ranks of the opening andante with the natural geometry of a carbon molecule.

Among the soloists in Serenade was the splendid Joseph Cipolla, who also d the lead in Orpheus. This 1948 work was conceived as a companion piece for Balanchine's earlier Apollo and is a triumph of artistic collaboration that unites the specially-commissioned Stravinsky score with the weird and wonderful designs of sculptor Isamu Noguchi (who had worked successfully with Martha Graham since 1935). Noguchi's worm-infested unitards for the Furies sprout fat ropes of fabric that erupt from the rs' bodies and flick around them, tracing extra arcs of movement. Swayed by Orpheus's lament, the Furies huddle at the back of the stage and flutter unnervingly like a giant anemone. Cipolla's angst-wracked body keens with the Stravinsky score as he mourns his dead wife, the music coaxed from him by Andrew Murphy's Dark Angel. Murphy was recruited from Australian Ballet last year and, although his Steve McGarrett quiff and long sideburns are a bit Alvin Stardust for the ballet stage, he's proving a very useful addition to the side. His Piers Gaveston last week was hugely admired and on Thursday he looked well in both Orpheus and in the "Phlegmatic" variation in The Four Temperaments.

The latter formed the evening's finale. Created in 1946, the ballet uses a score that Balanchine commissioned from Paul Hindemith with 500 of the dollars he had earned in Hollywood. The architectural divisions of space and the almost modular simplicity of the steps, which are taken apart and reassembled in endless permutations, made the work a choreographic landmark. David Justin's Melancholy is particularly successful in conveying the quality of inert weight that characterises this variation. He allows gravity to drag his shoulders forward to the earth or to pull his spine back into a tight arch before he lunges forward like a runner breasting a tape. David Bintley may not be running with the pack but if he continues his brave and exciting programming policy he deserves to win in the long run.

Birmingham Hippodrome today (mat & eve), booking: 0121-622 7486; then touring to Sunderland, Bradford and Bristol

Louise Levene