AS artistic director, David Nixon says he must "balance perceived identity and simultaneously stride forward into often untested waters both for the company and the audience".

Northern Ballet Theatre has just won the Audience Award in the National Dance Awards for the third year running, and the first-night audience whooped its approval of Nixon's world premiere of his cumbersomely titled A Sleeping Beauty Tale. Their loyalty would appear to know no bounds.

Dixon has not so much strode forward into untested waters as boldly gone where no ballet has gone before: space. Alas he has gone too far. Read the two-page synopsis with its story of hovering Evolved Beings, Red and Blue Planets, council of wizards and a chosen one being born "physically an adult, but two years from being fully conscious", and Patricia Doyle's scenario is already too far fetched and complicated.

No sooner has the mother in the next seat explained to her daughter that "they tell the story through dance because they can't talk in ballet" than Victoria Sibson's Seara, Queen of the Blue Planet, starts talking. The Blue Planet is a paradise; the Red Planet is a parasite, she says, setting the scene before the corps de ballet enters on points to revive memories of Petipa's original ballet.

Nixon's problem lies in the already convoluted story not sitting easily with the manner of telling it. The choreography looks imposed on the plot rather than growing from it, and pretty classical ballet ill fits the futuristic sci-fi drama, where contemporary dance might thrive. Or maybe Cirque du Soleil, whose shadow hangs over this inferior work, especially when the Evolved Beings are suspended in rings high above the stage.

Nothing on ground level ever matches this spectacular vision. Indeed, the French flourish of Jerome Kaplan's designs and costumes and the complementary lighting design of Olivier Oudiou are the stars in this galaxy: inventive and fabulous, they over-shadow Nixon's choreography and are wittier too.

The romance of Georgina May's Aurora and Christopher Hinton-Lewis's Adameter fails to be moving in this misadventure. At its Al Gore core resides a fashionable concern for ecology and climate change, but this Sleeping Beauty is more Star Trek than 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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