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Ballet : Birmingham Steals the Show from London

By Patricia Boccadoro

{short description of image}ONDON, 8 0ctober 1997 - The Royal Ballet, now without a permanent London home, has opened it's 1997/98 season at the Labbat's Apollo, Hammersmith with a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Productions of Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty will complete their three week programme, neither particularly imaginative nor exciting, but one which should please the crowds and fill the 3,800 seat theatre, too large for classical dance and where many sightlines are poor.

After a brief tour to Madrid with The Sleeping Beauty (28 November-3 December), their Christmas season follows at the Royal Festival Hall which is even less suited to dance.

But artistic director Anthony Dowell is optimistic , seeing the season as a "challenge" to the dancers who have the "opportunity" to dance in more theatres in front of more people. His brave words try to mask the reality of a lack of funding for a more innovative repertoire in more suitable venues.

Meanwhile, redevelopment work has begun on the 140 year old Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, badly in need of extensive repair, and where no real maintenance work has been carried out since the 1960's. This task, entrusted to the interior designer David Mlinaric who already worked on the refurbishment of the building thirty years ago, will include restoring the sharpness of the colours in the auditorium to make it "look like it does now, but not so tired."

Air- conditioning will be installed as well as a long-awaited lift to the amphitheatre. This will be good news for those who cannot climb those 120 steps and who resented the fact that the amphitheatre was previously separated from the rest of the house.

Part of the £ 214 million funding will go to rebuilding and enlarging the magnificent Victorian Floral Hall, damaged by fire in the 1950's and to the construction of a second 400-seat auditorium , allowing small-scale experimental works to be performed.

Not least will be the modernisation of back-stage technical facilities and the installation of more low-priced seats. As of today, work is said to be on schedule and should be completed in time for the millennium.

The Royal Ballet is not the only dance company in the U.K. On April 1st the British public acquired a "new" ballet troupe, the flourishing Birmingham Royal Ballet Limited( ex- Sadlers Wells, latterly Birmingham Royal Ballet), which is no longer managed by the Royal Opera House. It now has its own board of directors and receives direct funding from the Arts Council, thus assuming full responsibility for its artistic and financial affairs.

The Birmingham season at the Hippodrome opens on October 9th with Edward II (choreography David Bintley,music, John McCabe). The ballet, based on Christopher Marlowe's play, was created for the Stuttgart company two years ago but has not yet been danced in Britain. This will be followed by an equally interesting programme of Balanchine, where the dancers will be working alongside the Balanchine Trust.

Far from being a "second company", the centre of dance in Britain seems to be switching from London to the Midlands.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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