THE EYE: DANCE

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Birmingham Royal Ballet perform The Dream, Carmina Burana 12-14 May; Tombeaux, Sanctum, Nutcracker Sweeties, 16-17 May, at the Mayflower, Southampton (01703 711811).Then touring to Manchester, Birmingham, London, and Plymouth

It is widely supposed that the public is resistant to mixed programmes, which is why ballet menus up and down the land offer an unvarying diet of full-length works featuring dancing confectionery or lugubrious wildfowl. This sorry state of affairs is ruefully blamed on ballet audiences' conservative tastes.

We talk of a "ballet-going public" as if they were a distinct body of theatre-goers but do they really exist? They certainly used to, back in the days when British ballet was growing up on a nourishing one-act diet of Ashton, Helpmann, Tudor and MacMillan, but this coterie audience is probably a thing of the past. Ballet companies today know that much vital revenue is derived from some very casual users indeed. We all know people who see Nutcracker at Christmas, just as they drink champagne at weddings or eat cheese-spread on aeroplanes. This fickle crowd like a ballet they can hum to. Besides, even the less sophisticated ballet-goer knows that there is an awful lot of rubbish about and has grown understandably wary of the dread words "New Ballet t.b.a" on their booking forms. So. How does one alchemise these leadenly unadventurous Tchaikovsky lovers into people with a real enthusiasm for ballet?

Birmingham Royal Ballet's David Bintley, like his predecessor Sir Peter Wright, has a natural flair for composing mixed bills that satisfy his dancers' appetite for fresh choreography while keeping the wolf from the door. His company's British tour opens in Southampton on Monday with two mixed programmes. The first combines Ashton's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream with Bintley's own Carmina Burana, a ballet that cannily hitches a ride on a popular classic. The second mixed programme features Bintley's Tombeaux, Sanctum by the American choreographer Lila York and Bintley's 1996 hit Nutcracker Sweeties. The last bypasses the audience's expectations by using Duke Ellington's version of Tchaikovsky. Bintley's other masterstroke was involving Jasper Conran; his fabulous fruit salad of beaded costumes all but upstages Bintley's witty choreography.

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