ENB is seldom out of the news these days, very largely thanks to its tireless artistic director Derek Deane (most uncharacteristic utterance: ''no comment''). Mr Deane has bravely overcome his shy, retiring nature to provide copy suitable for all occasions ranging from the training of British dancers to the ill-health of his friend Princess Margaret. Between soundbites he finds time to choreograph new productions of reliable popular works. His most ambitious project to date was his Swan Lake-in-the-round created for last summer's season at the Royal Albert Hall which featured the Busby Berkeley-ish spectacle of 60 birds bourreeing in formation in a puddle of dry ice.
Such fondness for brazen spectacle means that Derek Deane enjoys a very mixed press. Many sneer at his willingness to cut his coat to fit his cloth, tailoring mainstream, popular ballets that will keep the wolf from the door. Others (myself included) find they cannot but admire the singleminded determination that has eradicated a pounds 400,000 deficit within the five years of his tenure. Balanchine he's not, but he's also the first to admit it.
In the longer term, he would like to see the once-great company (founded as London Festival Ballet by Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin in 1949) in the same superleague as the Kirov and the New York City Ballet. Surely a loyal and contented audience and a healthy balance sheet are a sensible basis for a great leap forward?
Deane's latest pronouncement concerns the news that the company's chairman, the unshakeably lacquered Pamela Lady Harlech, will not be getting up from her chair when her third term ends this December. Instead she will, like Mrs Thatcher, go on and on and on. Lady Harlech (most unlikely utterance: ''just rub a towel over it and scrunch it dry'') is on her third artistic director in eight years. Peter Shaufuss, who had led the company to considerable acclaim in the late 1980s found her impossible and his successor Ivan Nagy had a similarly bad time.
Deane has lasted five years and the pair seem united in their respect for the bottom line. Combine that hardheadedness with a few more stars (dancers and choreographers) and a little more adventurousness and the company could be unstoppable.
Richmond Theatre (0181-940 0088) 3-4 April; The Hawth, Crawley (01293 553636) 14-15 April; The Orchard, Dartford (01322 220000) 17-18 April; The Hexagon, Reading (0118-960 6060) 1-2 May