Women have a habit of walking out of Kenneth MacMillan's The Judas Tree. There you are, watching the grim scenario unfold, soaking up Brian Elias's brooding, brilliant score when you hear the sudden tell-tale thump as a seat tips up and some poor soul staggers through the darkness when the grim tale of gang rape and betrayal suddenly stirs some hideous memory. It's hard to blame them: it is a very nasty piece of work. Set on a London building site, a gang of men and their foreman are teased and tormented by a mysterious young woman in a leotard, who is then brutally ravished by each of them in turn. The foreman, who initiates the atrocity, then hangs himself. MacMillan's final work is teeming with choreographic invention but handles its difficult subject with little sensitivity or reflection. In any other genre such treatment of rape would be deemed gratuitous sensationalism, but this is ballet so we are obliged to assume that the action on stage conceals something more profound.
The nagging feeling that there is more to the ballet than meets the eye is largely due to the performances that it extracts from the Royal Ballet's dancers. Irek Mukhamedov (left), who created the role of the foreman in 1992, invests the character with extraordinary power. Leanne Benjamin gives a disturbing and ambiguous account of the teasing siren who stumbles into this mysterious male world and helps forge her own destruction. Mukhamedov will dance only one of the two performances this season, on Thursday 13 February. On Tuesday 18, the foreman was scheduled to have been danced by rising star Adam Cooper, but his foot injury means that princely Jonathan Cope gets a rare chance to dance against type.
Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (0171-304 4000) 13 & 18 Feb