It starts like a scene from Mary Poppins, with penguin waiters nimbly weaving between waltzing couples, but ends with a deft blow to the stomach to deliver its environmental message. David Bintley's 'Still Life' at the Penguin Café is nearly 30 years old, but remains a clear audience favourite, a zoological cabaret that's like a hybrid of Strictly and Planet Earth. Despite competition from Michael Corder's take on Le Baiser de la fée and Ruth Brill's Arcadia, Penguin Café was the highlight of the entertaining triple bill Birmingham Royal Ballet brought to Sadler's Wells yesterday evening.

Ruth Brill (The Great Auk) in Bintley's <i>'Still Life' at the Penguin Café</i> © Andy Ross
Ruth Brill (The Great Auk) in Bintley's 'Still Life' at the Penguin Café
© Andy Ross

A cast of endangered animals bump and grind to Simon Jeffe's peppy, upbeat score. Wit is at the forefront of most numbers in Bintley's joyous choreography: Mathias Dingman's Brazilian Woolly Monkey grooves to sassy samba rhythms; the inexhaustible Tzu-Chao Chou leaps and springs as a dungaree-clad Texas Kangaroo Rat to a Coplandesque hoedown. Bintley's eye for comedy juxtaposes Laura Day's Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk Flea with a quintet of English Morris dancers. Maureya Lebowitz sashays elegantly as a slinky Utah Longhorn Ram.

Tyrone Singleton (Southern Cape Zebra) in Bintley's <i>'Still Life' at the Penguin Café</i> © Bill Cooper
Tyrone Singleton (Southern Cape Zebra) in Bintley's 'Still Life' at the Penguin Café
© Bill Cooper

Yet there are serious, deeply reflective moments. In White Mischief, Tyrone Singleton's athletic, mohican-quiffed cross between zebra and witchdoctor is surrounded by narcissistic women in black and white striped couture, sporting antelope skull fascinators. When a single gunshot fells the zebra, the slaves to fashion remain indifferent. A displaced rainforest couple and their child seek shelter. When the rains arrive, Ruth Brill's Great Auk (a species which became extinct in the mid-19th century) leads them on their search for a modern day ark. It's a poignant conclusion to an uplifting ballet.

Brandon Lawrence (Pan) in Brill's <i>Arcadia</i> © Ty Singleton
Brandon Lawrence (Pan) in Brill's Arcadia
© Ty Singleton

Depicting Pan as half-man, half-god, Brill's Arcadia had its première last spring, her first main stage commission. Her Ancient Greek ballet is a pastoral paradise set amid Atena Ameri's stylised latticework trees illuminated by an outsized moon. Brill's vision of Pan is perhaps a distant cousin to Nijinsky's Faune, but for all Brandon Lawrence's snaking arms and sinuous steps there's a lack of eroticism in the choreography and even less in John Harle's jazzy, middle eastern-inspired score, peppered – naturally enough – with gravelly, flutter-tongued saxophone solos to suggest Pan's primal urges. It's an attractive piece though, with lots of traditional ballet steps on pointe for the three nymphs – Pitys, Syrinx and Echo – and the moon goddess, Selene, danced with great fluidity by Céline Gittens.

Jenna Roberts (The Fairy) in Corder's <i>Le Baiser de la fée</i> © Bill Cooper
Jenna Roberts (The Fairy) in Corder's Le Baiser de la fée
© Bill Cooper

Sir Kenneth MacMillan's version of Le Baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss) graced the London stage last month as part of the Royal Ballet's MacMillan celebrations, but BRB opted here for Michael Corder's 2008 take on the Hans Christian Andersen's dark fairy tale The Ice Maiden about a mother who dies in a winter storm, where her infant child is rescued and kissed by a fairy, binding their fate forever. Years later, the Young Man's wedding celebrations are interrupted by the Fairy who comes to claim him. Stravinsky's score – his homage to Tchaikovsky, especially the almost neoclassical world of The Sleeping Beauty's final act – glistened in the hands of Paul Murphy and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

Jenna Roberts was a beguiling Fairy, her ethereal bourrés disguising her malevolence until her seductive contribution to the pas de deux with Lachlan Monaghan's slightly stilted Young Man. Momoko Hirata impressed as his charming Bride, her nimble pirouettes matching her airy innocence. In Corder's version, when the Fairy comes to claim the Young Man, her kiss takes his life. It makes for a chilling conclusion, making the warmth of Bintley's Penguin Café all the more welcome.