American Ballet Theatre’s second programme at Sadler’s Wells transports us across the globe and through time beginning with a visit to the 19th century Russian Imperial Court and ending in wartime America. This is a mixed experience in more ways than one. Things get off to a tentative start with Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. The piece was created especially for ABT in 1947, but in this performance the company seemed ill at ease. Yuriko Kajiya and Daniel Simkin were at their best when they had the stage to themselves during the pas de deux, but they lacked polish and confidence. Despite their sumptuous costumes the company as a whole lacked vitality and technical precision and at times they seemed almost cramped by the proportions of the stage. It was uncomfortable viewing.

Things improved significantly in the second piece, Antony Tudor’s Jardin aux Lilas. The dark, oppressive design of the lilac garden symbolises the psychological drama of a woman who is trapped and forced to enter into a marriage of convenience. In this performance Ximora Reyes principal status stands out. Sad, stoic and serious she characterises the hopelessness of the situation demonstrating brief glimpses of unfulfilled joy and vitality when she encounters her true love, Grant Delong at the pre-wedding party. In keeping with the part ‘The Man She Must Marry’, Roddy Doble demonstrates little emotion or passion and it is difficult to imagine he had previously enjoyed a liaison with the lithe and glamorous Leann Underwood who plays his former lover with style.

Reassuringly the improvement continues, albeit in a different vein, with the pas de deux from act two of The Nutcracker, choreographed by ABT’s artist in residence, Alexei Ratmansky. It was a joy to see the technical control, strength and confidence of Veronika Part, who smiled throughout, and Marcelo Gomes. At ease with themselves they appeared to relish this opportunity to demonstrate their talent and skill as much as the audience. It was an impressive performance.

The closing piece, Paul Taylor’s Company B, is a fun, light and frothy concoction of war-time, Hollywood style dancing, performed to the swinging soundtrack of the Andrews Sisters. On home territory it’s a chance for the company to show their versatility and humour. In particular Luciana Paris is seductive, dancing to ‘Rum and Coca Cola’, Gillian Murphy is charming in ‘I can dream can’t I’ and Joseph Philips is energy personified as the ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ from the title of the piece. Despite a cool start, in this second programme ABT produce an afternoon of fun entertainment with the occasional heartwarming flash of inspiration.