San Francisco Ballet - uneven through to the corps; DANCE

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San Francisco Ballet's two programmes promised a wide range of often mouth-watering choreography: Balanchine, Mark Morris, and the British premiere of a ballet by David Bintley. The results were variable.

Balanchine, and especially his Stravinsky Violin Concerto, dominated the first programme. This is a fabulous ballet, matching the music with driving rhythm and magnificently angular movement. It is also decidedly taxing. The corps de ballet moves in precise counterpoint, crossing and balancing patterns, rhythms and individual steps. The writing for the soloists is dazzlingly rich, sleek and fast. The ballet's two great pas de deux - the first all contortions and sharp edges, the second full of smooth intricacies - were lucidly danced. The astonishing architecture of the choreography was plainly visible. It isn't often shown in this country, so this glimpse was to be treasured.

Symphony in C fared less well. This is an ideal closing ballet - the audience clearly loved its exuberance and the tutus - but for all its sunniness it is horribly difficult. Its pure classicism is quite as tough as the more obvious complexities of the Violin Concerto; the choreography is so exposed that any flaw in line or technique is immediately evident. It also requires unusual depth of casting. Each movement has a new pair of soloists, and two subsidiary couples. The company's resources could not be more brutally revealed. Again, the performance made the choreography plain, but this ballet demands more. The company are short of authoritative soloists, and need a greater sense of attack.

Mark Morris's Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes suffered similarly. There are lovely steps in this ballet, but they were lost. The dancing was accurate but airless: classroom exercises rather than dancing.

David Bintley's The Dance House, set to Shostakovitch's Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings and made for this company, suits them much better. It is a dance of death, possibly Aids; modern representations of plague tend to imply it, and the ballet is dedicated to a friend who died of the disease. The set suggests a rehearsal studio, with a scarlet barre (echoed in a red band on the women's costumes). The ballerina is claimed by Death in the first movement (surely the first personification of death to labour under the disadvantages of blue skin and salmon-pink legwarmers). The soloist of the second has one red stockings, suggesting that the disease is spreading; the last is the dance of death. Most aspects of Bintley's theme have been seen before, which may be why he is weakest in the choreography for the principals. The work for the corps is much better, especially in the first two movements. And the company really understand it. They are technically accomplished, sometimes touching.

All their efforts could not save two works by Helgi Tomasson, the company's director. The lumpen Sonata appeared to particular disadvantage; like Criss-Cross, Tomasson's other ballet, it is ambitious but derivative.

Overall, both programmes were uneven, perhaps because of different conditions of staging. Stravinsky Violin Concerto, the greatest success, is under the control of the vigilant Balanchine Trust. Work might improve Symphony in C and Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes. But even so, there are worrying limitations. Tomasson has been praised for revitalising the company, but more remains to be done.

Edinburgh Playhouse (0131 473 2000), today at 2pm & 7.30pm.

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