First Night: Mix of flamenco and ballet falls off its points

City Ballet of London Peacock Theatre London
CITY BALLET of London is a monument to the heroic survival instincts of its director, Harold King. He has devised programmes with a firm eye on the box office, while finding room for the fresh and interesting. Last year he invited the contemporary-dance choreographer Mark Baldwin; this year, it's the young Christopher Hampson, whose Canciones is part of CBL's Latin-themed touring programme Viva!.

After a hiccup over the performing rights of music by Manuel de Falla, Canciones comes to the stage with songs and music by Albeniz instead. The design is all Mediterranean whites and ochres. The guest singer and flamenco dancer Rosario Serrano moves among two dancing couples. The choreography slides between ballet and flamenco, the men matching Serrano's stamps, the women embroidering liquid classical steps on point. But the ballet collapses at its centre with Serrano's feeble voice and lightweight presence.

Where Hampson's conception is original, Robert North's 1984 Entre Dos Aguas, revised for CBL, is as predictable and inoffensive as Radio 2. Five couples, two principals and a row of chairs participate in choreography that spins out pirouettes like a Magimix and irons everything into a uniform blandness.

If going Latin is an effective way of attracting audiences, including Petipa's Don Quixote pas de deux is even better. This little item of classical fireworks demands dancing technique to match, and Elisa Celis and Peter Ottevanger had good presentation and winning smiles. However, they will not count among this century's virtuosi. When Ottevanger's smile slipped before his big solo, we saw the face of a man who knew he was inexorably approaching his doom.

Performance was the trouble with Hans Van Manen's Five Tangos as well. Van Manen's surface of rigidly controlled geometries should suggest dangerous passions swirling underneath. But the CBL cast looked like fresh-faced students with never a dark thought in their unclouded minds. Viva! was a programme that was not so much alive as dormant.